By Beth Hanson
The swish of thigh-high grasses against your skin as you go off-trail for a close-up encounter with a cottonwood. Watching in wonder as a fawn sips from the edge of a slow-moving river. Laying on your back on a gravel bar on a cool morning to fully appreciate the spiraling pelicans overhead. These and other precious moments are provided courtesy of South Platte Park - to those who can master their fears of the wild.
If the fear of being startled by a wiggling garter snake prevents you from walking through tall grass, you won't see the intricate twists and turns of the insect tunnels exposed when the bark falls away from the stately victim of a passing thunderstorm. You won't feel the spongy texture of the ancient wood as it succumbs to inevitable rot. You won't discover a burrow or scat left behind by a creature who has found a new home under an old neighbor.
If the fear of entering a body of water that doesn't have a concrete floor prevents you from floating in a gentle river, you won't see the spots on the back of a month-old fawn as it stretches its neck to lap the cool river water under the watchful eyes of its mother yards away. You won't see its ears pivot or its nose twitch when it senses that it's not alone on this early summer morning.
If the fear of spiders prevents you from lying down without benefit of a tarp or cot, you won't leisurely watch three pelicans in military-like formation, lazily spiral as one, riding a thermal up, up, up. You won't sense the heat rising up from the gravel, through your t-shirt and deep into your core, while a cool morning breeze chills your exposed skin and tickles your hair follicles.
Fear can be well-founded. Of course, you should be aware of poisonous creatures and toxic plants that inhabit the region you're exploring. But, fear shouldn't keep you from enjoying the natural world. Acknowledge your fears, assess their risks (South Platte Park hasn't had a rattlesnake or black widow incident in 25 years!) and take a walk on the wild side.
If you have some fears you would like to set aside when it comes to nature, join us on September 25 at 6:30 p.m. to 'Walk on the Wild Side - at Night!' We'll explore the park looking for nocturnal wildlife. We also have other programs to improve your skills and comfort in nature, such as 'Edible and Poisonous Plants' and 'Wildlife Identification'.
A version of this article first appeared in South Platte Park's monthly eNewsletter "Nature News." If you would like your own copy each month, join their email list.