“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
That’s a quote from pioneering naturalist and conservationist John Muir. His books are history lessons, geography lessons and life lessons all wrapped up in wonderfully descriptive stories that often revealed Muir’s growing spiritual awakening when out in the forest.
Our connection to nature is fundamental to our health and well-being. Many cultures looked to the plants and the animals for wisdom and healing. It may seem obvious that nature is important but most don’t understand how to connect with nature any longer.
As I have mentioned in the past, connecting to nature is becoming aware of the sights, sounds, smells and touch of nature around us, like our dogs.
That awareness is not only about how nature affects us, but how we affect nature. In other words, it is an awareness of the positive or negative impact our presence has on nature and its inhabitants and this includes the impact our dog has on nature, the animals that live there and the other people who share that walk with you.
Spiritual teacher Wayne Dyer once said, “How you treat another person is your Karma, how they respond is theirs.” Be aware of the impact your choices have on others around you, including nature.
You can start becoming more aware of your impact on nature by taking responsibility for your dog along the walks. The more responsible you are, the more positive your impact becomes. The less responsible you are, the more negative your impact becomes.
Walk your dog on leash. Most provincial parks require that dogs be leashed while on trails. This is not only to minimize the negative impact of a dog running through sensitive habitats such as ground-nesting birds or spawning fish, but to keep your dog and you safe from predators – and from getting lost.
Restricting your dog by leashing it is not a negative impact on your dog. You are promoting leadership and improving your bond in a positive way by keeping your pup close. Placing a firm grip on the leash also allows you the ability to observe how your dog interacts with nature and with you.
Leashing your dog prevents it from invading the space of other trail users. Like you, other hikers are trying to connect with nature in their way, which is different than yours, but it is their way. Having your dog rush towards them, jump on them, bark at them is not a positive experience for anyone.
Be aware of the reactions of people as they approach you. Respect that other hikers are not on the trail to meet your dog but to meet nature. Allow them to have a positive experience by not meeting your dog. If they want to say hello wait for their initiation, don’t allow your dog to be invasive.
Dogs don’t have to say hello to every dog on the path. A dog will get along just fine walking past another leashed dog. Learn how to positively move past other people with dogs without invading their hiking experience. If there is not enough room along a trail for two people and dogs to pass comfortably then be the first person to yield to the side and have your dog sit as they pass by. This simple choice reflects your civility and good manners and is a positive choice.
Along the walk, teach yourself and your dog self control by stopping and resting. Find a rock or a log and sit for a bit with your dog in a controlled position beside you. Take this time to observe the forest around you. When you and your dog are quiet, the forest comes alive in a positive way with the sounds of birds and insects.
And this is where you will find yourself.
“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul,” wrote John Muir.