Melinda Lee Schmitt

About 4 years ago I read a story about a man who walked every day of his life for 30+ years. He walked rain or shine. It reminded me of my Great Grandmother who continued to walk to the general store around the corner from her house up until the day she moved into a nursing home. She was peppy and full of life. I felt inspired by them both. So, I decided to walk – for my health, for my sanity, just to see what would happen.

What started as a health journey turned into so much more. My walks started earlier and earlier until I found myself walking at 5 or 5:30 in the morning most mornings. The primary reason is because of the countless friends I met on my walks before the rest of humanity woke up. I live at the edges of the large city of Atlanta, not exactly where you would expect to find wildlife, yet it is abundant. 

The one mile walk around my neighborhood includes a pass by the Whittier Mill Park. It is a wide-open space with lush woods surrounding it. When I began the walks, I thought maybe I might find a deer or two grazing in the fields but hadn’t expected much more than that. Imagine my surprise when an opossum cut across my path on the far side of the neighborhood scuttling from one backyard to the next, nowhere near the park. 

The more I walked, the more wildlife I discovered near my urban home. The earlier in the morning I walked, the more likely I was to see the ones that preferred the cover of night. Raccoons, coyotes, foxes, they all made their way across my path. I was delighted.

People wondered how I was not afraid to be walking at such an ungodly hour of the morning. I often shared that I was far less afraid of the animals than I was of people. At least the animals were predictable. Take for instance the early morning I encountered a pack of coyotes out hunting. As I rounded the corner near the park, I watched as one coyote trotted into the park at the entrance. Another coyote was staring directly at me from the middle of the road. He was clearly the watcher. 

Here’s what I know for sure about animals, they do not waste their energy. As long as I wasn’t a threat, they absolutely would not waste their energy on me. I was far too large to be food which is the only other reason I might be threatened. Predictable. 

With this predictability, it was easy for me to choose the path that kept us both safe. Rather than continue down my projected path which would take me directly past the coyotes, I turned right and took a shortcut past the park. Curiosity got the best of me though. After turning, I backtracked just to see what the coyote decided to do. He was still there. Still staring. I made the right call. 

After 4 years of these early morning (and sometimes VERY late) walks, I have come to recognize that they offer so much more than physical and mental benefits. These walks are my meditation. It’s where I clear my head and am reminded of who I am. It’s how I start my day feeling connected to all that is. It’s my moment to commune with all the beings that live near and with me. 

I see far more animals now than I did when I first started. I believe they have come to recognize me as part of their surroundings. A part of their natural family. I am no more a threat to them than they are to me. I feel them encouraging me. I hear them supporting me. I smile at their curiosity of me. Even on the mornings when no one comes out to play, I know that I am never alone. 

It has been 4 years. On the days that I don’t go for a morning walk, I feel it. I miss it. I highly encourage everyone to try taking your own version of daily walks, whether it’s 5 in the morning, 10 at night, or anytime in between. And, when you are out there – slow it down. Reduce your pace by half. Look around. Soak it up. It’s been there for you all along.