By Donna M. Struck, Director of Finance and Administration
In my eight and a half years as a staff member at the Center, I have seen a great deal of positive change. One of my favorite changes of recent past is the addition of what we call the “Hagy’s Mill Parking Lot.”
The lot’s primary purpose is to provide parking for visitors during times when the main entrance gate is locked, such as on Sundays when the Visitor Center is closed. One day soon after the lot was finished, my colleague, Anna Lehr Mueser, suggested that we could park our cars there in the morning and walk the trails for the half-mile stroll to our Visitor Center. As someone who drives just shy of one hour to get to the Center, I thought this was a brilliant idea! What better way to decompress from a traffic-ridden commute than to experience the calm and peace of a forest that has only recently woken up for the day. Hearing the roosters crow at the Urban Girls farm, listening to the sound of your own footsteps on the forest floor, and feeling the crisp winter air in your lungs are just a few of the sensory delights of this stroll. As someone who loves looking up into the sky, observing the sun through the trees on bright days and the gray clouds above the forest during overcast skies is always a source of inspiration and wonder. But a personal highlight is inhaling the scent of the Pine Grove as I saunter by. The Pine Grove is probably my favorite place in our 340 acres; it is peaceful and welcoming and always makes me want to take deep inhales. What a way to start the day!
I was asked by a colleague whether I use this time to tune in or tune out. Good question! If I find my mind is racing to what awaits me at my desk, I gently guide my awareness out of my own head and onto my surroundings. What am I seeing, smelling, hearing, feeling? In this case, I am tuning in to nature and out of mental noise. What advice is Mother Nature giving me this morning, and how can I get quiet and listen for it? On days when I am less distracted, it is easier to attain this state. Once foot hits trail, my body and senses usually take over and I gently request my chattering mind to patiently wait the fifteen minutes or so it will take me to get to my desk.
Another major advantage of this mini walking commute is that, during this time of year with earlier sunsets, it compels me to leave my desk mid-day to retrieve my car and bring it to our main parking lot. As many of us who work here can attest, we sometimes have to pull ourselves away from our very-demanding computers and enjoy the beauty of the 340-acre woods surrounding us on a regular basis. As our offices are in the basement level of our Visitor Center, I often joke with my colleagues that one of my goals is to get “above ground” more often.
As our days become longer, I look forward to leaving my car in the Hagy’s Mill lot and enjoying a sunset stroll at the end of a work day. I wonder how my strolls will differ in the warm spring air? Will the scent of the Pine Grove deepen or lessen? How will my view change with a full forest of leaf-ridden trees? Will the sound of my own footsteps be overcome by the serenading birdsongs? I have a feeling my morning serenade may increase in volume and add some “spring” to my step.
About the author: Donna is the Director of Finance and Administration at the Center and has worked in our business office since November of 2008. She has promised herself to walk in from the Hagy’s Mill lot at least once per week and to go above-ground every day.