by Lindsey Melvin, Henrico, VA

Growing up in rural Goochland County, I was soothed by the sounds of nature although I was unaware of this soothing effect in the same way that you are unaware of the air you breathe – it just happens. A chorus of cicadas in the summer and crickets in the fall was occasionally punctuated by the sounds of cows tearing off grass across the fence beneath my bedroom window or crows and bobwhites shouting out their calls.

As an adult, I settled in the city of Richmond and later in Henrico County. Seeking fresh air and exercise, I began walking regularly along the James River, first at Pony Pasture, then branching out and exploring Reedy Creek, Belle Isle, Pipeline, the Floodwall and North Bank Trail. The sounds (and sights) are different from my Goochland sensory food. Ducks and geese call loudly, intermingling with the mesmerizing sound of moving water. Although the human cacophony of cars moving, voices chattering and fire engines wailing plays in the background, my brain filters that out and hears only nature. A favorite walk when time is short and the day is late is to walk west along Riverside Drive from Huguenot Flatwater to Cherokee Road. The angle of the sun on the water and the abundance of wildlife provide a real-time postcard to entertain while I walk.

I’ve come to realize that these walks aren’t really about physical exercise but instead are exercise for the soul. I have found on the James River the same connection to nature that unknowingly enveloped me as a child in Goochland. These sounds (and sights) break through tension and stress and return me to the peace I felt as a child. Over time I’ve moved from walking beside the river to becoming a part of the river by kayaking and now paddleboarding. The sensory feast on the water is the elixir for the damage I’ve allowed to my rat-raced body and mind.