by Susan Underkoffler
Experiencing nature doesn’t have to be extravagant or involved or even planned; it doesn’t have to involve packing bags and gathering the “right” clothing or driving hours away to a huge nature reserve or forest. It needn’t involve anything but time and curiosity, really. The smallest of excursions outdoors can result in a better mood, lower blood pressure, feelings of gratitude and peace, and a calmer outlook. And you may even discover something new.
Throughout this pandemic, I’ve spent more and more time outside, much to the delight of my dog, Calypso, and often this is only around my neighborhood or in local parks. One of our favorite places to venture is a relatively small, wooded area called Manderfield Preserve. Encompassing approximately five miles of trails through rocky, interesting terrain with multiple species of native trees, Manderfield is part of the Pennsylvania and Mid-Atlantic highlands system. The land was bequeathed by a private owner to be held in trust for permanent use as a woodland preserve or park, and if I could hug Charles Manderfield for this wonderfully generous gift to us all, I would.
The preserve has a number of anomalous stone structures throughout, thought to be built by the Lenape Native Americans who inhabited this area and whose descendants still remain. There are also a number of pedestalled plaques stationed in front of various examples of certain trees that populate the area, which detail the trees’ leaf and bark structure and general ecological information for identification purposes. But for the most part, the preserve remains free of human clutter and interference.
Calypso loves to sniff among the rocks and barge into the “houses” of various woodland creatures and splash through the creeks that cut through the hilly land. I often feel bad for her that we frequent this area so much and think that she must internally roll her eyes like a petulant child when we hike the overly familiar trails, but every single time she acts just like it was the very first visit. From her I’ve learned that no matter how many times a beautiful outdoor space is frequented, no matter how close to home, there is always something (or many somethings) that maybe is not big or fancy, but still worth investigating and appreciating.