Walking my dog at 6 a.m. years ago, I noticed a long, skinny, green twig in the grass. It had an upward bend that hovered over the sidewalk. When my dog stopped a few feet away to stare at it, I took a second look. Then I noticed the twig had eyes, so we backed up. Since then, I’ve taken better care to pay attention when I’m walking. And to look at all sticks as if they could be snakes.
Even though I’ve been told by locals that most snakes in my area are not poisonous, I don’t want to be bitten by anything. Brown recluse spiders are the bigger danger, my coworkers have warned. Always shake out your shoes before putting them on because these spiders have a harsh bite. I never encountered spiders with necrotic venom where I grew up in Upstate New York.
I’ve embraced the joys of looking down, initially to stay bite-free, but now it’s become a sort of meditative practice. I’m a slow walker anyway, so why not stop and look around instead of always looking at what’s ahead? Here are three ways I am more attentive and appreciative of the ground I walk on outside.
1. Notice the Little Creatures
Fire Ant Hills
As a child, I played near fire ants in my front yard and was bitten all over my legs. I didn’t know ants could bite. Down South, we once had a work email from administrators stating that employees should not be walking across the grass because of multiple reports of people getting bitten by fire ants.
These tiny little hills are no match for the giant fire ant mounds I’ve seen, but I gladly stepped around them.
A Reptile in Camouflage
On this trail, a graveled side road led to an optional path to a residential neighborhood. The colorful Fall leaves were pretty, but I noticed an anomaly in the pattern of colors.
Can you see the anomaly?
How about now?
As I got closer, I saw this turtle. According to my image search, this is an Eastern Box Turtle and is capable of living for over 100 years.
It is the official state reptile of North Carolina and Tennessee.
Skinks and Anoles
These lizards are so fast in the woods that they startle me when they run across my path, so I’ve only ever gotten photos of them closer to home.
I believe this is a green anole that has camouflaged himself into this wilting canna lily off my patio.
I had never seen a lizard so relaxed and peacefully cradled by a leaf.
2. Find the Art at your Feet
The texture of spider webs on my skin is a repulsive sensation I try to avoid, but I can appreciate the skill of the creature that weaves such beautiful and functional artwork.
Looking down from a walking bridge, I caught a faint glimpse of something. Can you see it?
Extreme close-up view.
This is the perfect place for a spider web, catching all the insects by the water and it’s so hard to see between the shadows of trees and the sunlight glimmering on the water.
Couldn’t find the spider that created this though.
As someone self-taught to sketch poorly, I have learned to notice shadows. While these tulips are lovely, I also enjoyed their shadows on the dirt path this early morning.
Mosaic Garden Art
The Sarah P. Duke Gardens has lots of nooks and crannies you can hide in to avoid crowds while looking at stonework.
This circular stone artwork was hypnotic.
Below is the complete picture of the work. I like the stone bench that looks as if it naturally formed there. This mosaic garden art was created by Brooks Burleson, a stone mason, and artisan. His website has a gallery of his work.
Solar Eclipse shadows
Back on August 21, 2017, my employer gave us all disposable, protective viewing glasses to watch the solar eclipse during work hours. It was amazing.
But I was just as mesmerized by what I saw when I looked down. Three-dimensional shadows?
A tree was in the line between the sun and the sidewalk, so I suppose it’s the way the light came through the leaves, but I’ve never seen shadows with such depth.
3. Play Name that Seed, Pod and Nut
Tulip Poplar Pods
I had been calling these “strange pine cones” for quite a while. But I recently saw a squirrel in the woods devouring one like it was corn on the cob, so I had to find out more.
If my image search was correct, then these are tulip poplar pods.
The tulip poplar is one of the largest trees that are native to North America and can grow to 120 feet tall.
Sweetgum seed ball
The internet identified this picture as sweetgum seed balls.
People online have asked if these spiky balls are edible.
They are not.
Human uses for them include placing them by your favorite plants to repel animals or putting them in bowls to decorate your house.
I was seated on a bench when I saw what I thought were dead cockroaches that are rampant here, so I moved them with my walking stick to see if I was right. Without any legs or other identifying features, I then wondered if they were nuts.
My image search failed me.
I do not believe these flat nuggets are round chestnuts or ox-eye beans native to Central and South America.
Can you identify this?
They may be a type of pine nut based on the photos on the pine nut Wikipedia page.
These are my strategies for being attentive to all that nature has to offer. It helps if you are naturally slow-moving or have a mission to relax instead of getting your steps in. When I was a child, teachers often told me not to look down and to look where I was going. While it’s always helpful to be aware of your surroundings, solely focusing on what’s ahead is the best way to trip on protruding tree roots.
When moving, my outward glances are fleeting. I come to a full stop or sit down when I want to take in all the sensory experiences beyond what I see on the ground. The music of birds, the scraping sound of bark pushed off by squirrels running up trees, the sweetness of blooming honeysuckle and the branches swaying in the wind.
What do you think? Do you have any other strategies for finding treasures at your feet? Can you better identify any of the photographs here? I haven’t been able to clearly identify the two white plants in the featured image, though one garden expert I consulted did suspect that they were mushrooms, not plants.
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