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We all know walking is good for us with the health benefits of physical exercise and mental de-stressing away from our sedentary home, office or school focus. Outdoor walking has been found to have even more enhanced health benefits by sensory observational focus along the way of nature’s birds, butterflies or plants. If you can’t visit a distant nature walking trail, just getting out your door — on your own neighborhood sidewalk with greenery about — is beneficial.
However, sometimes you may become bored by your same neighborhood walk and take an iPhone along for more stimulation. But that puts you back to focused on electronics and diverts you from the de-stressing benefit of the nature focus you seek. So, here’s an interesting nature walk changeup for adults and kids on your neighborhood walk.
How about trying to identify the tallest tree on your walk? There is actually a worldwide “big tree” forestry registration program (americanforests.org) of Champion Trees that does this. The tallest tree in Florida is an 8-story, over 100-foot-tall pine tree in the Suwannee River State Park in Hamilton County. It’s not likely we’ll come close to finding a big tree like that locally, but it may be fun to identify the tallest Champion on your own neighborhood walk, and then, learn more about it.
Here’s how to naturally do it using a stick and simple calculation also known by Scouts and the ancient Egyptians building the pyramids. First, a little prep: Measure the length of your step (example, a 2-foot stride). Next, find a discarded stick and make it to the length from your cheekbone to your fingers when your arm is fully horizontally extended in front of your face. (You can also mark a walking stick to the correct length.) Now, start walking.
When you spot a good big tree candidate, on level ground, grasp the stick, holding it vertically and stretched out at arm’s length. Walk toward or away from your tree until the bottom of the stick held at arm’s length, cheekbone height aligns with the base of the tree trunk and the top of the stick aligns with the top of the tree. The horizontal line of sight distance, from your cheekbone to the base of the tree, by trigonometry, is about equal to the vertical height of the tree. Lastly, just count your steps to the tree (for example, 21). Multiply your number of steps (21) by your step length (2 feet) and you’ve calculated the tree’s height (21 steps times 2 feet equals a 42-foot-tall tree). Congrats, you’ve done it — using natural materials, observation, and simple STEM field science trigonometry. Save that stick for your next walk. Now you’ve got a more interesting nature experience, combining a healthy neighborhood walk with natural observation and science.
Want to take a break for healthy walking, nature observation and new learning on maintained trails in the largest green space conservation area in Palm Beach County? Visit the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, the northernmost part of the Florida Everglades, 10216 Lee Road, west of Boynton Beach.
Ron Seifer, Ph.D., is a member of the Friends of the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.