Blog #89: Dos and Don'ts for Autumn Walks

October 6, 2022
Monika Weber-Fahr
October is - in my humble opinion - the  best month for enjoying God’s creations outdoors while taking time to go on a leisurely walk or modestly ambitious hike. The trees’ glorious autumn colors in and around Vienna are lighting up in their many incarnations, and while I enjoy the beauties of spring just as much, there is something about the light and the crisp air in October and November that is quite unmatched.  At the same time, October is also the month during which we conclude Creationtide - in fact three days ago, on St. Francis Day, October 4th. This year’s Creationtide theme is Listen to the Voice of Creation, and one of the things we are asked to do is - as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Pope Francis, and Patriarch Bartholomew I put it about a year ago - listen to the Earth’s cries for help. This got me thinking: What would the Earth want to tell us right now, in October, in Vienna?
Don’t mess me up is what I'd imagine Earth would probably want to aks us - or at least warn those of us going out for walks and hikes. There also might be praise - such as look, isn’t creation wonderful over here in the Alps, or some lamenting, Woo, what has been done to my Glaciers. As it were, indeed, we hikers and walkers have a tendency to mess things up for nature. So for this blog, we have summarized for you the four or five most important tips - or rather: rules - for doing both: Enjoying nature while not messing it up.
1. (All of!) what you bring is what you take.  This expectation is probably the single most important - and most easily disrespected “rule”. Most of us (even though not all) know by now to not leave behind tins, plastic boxes, and other larger packaging.  But still - I often see hikers who say they are careful with what they leave behind - but then throw things in the woods or leave them by the sidelines that will take years to biodegrade/decompost.  These include bananas (2 years to biodegrade), orange peels (6 months to biodegrade), nuts (up to many years), or tissue paper (1 month).  So: If in doubt - put the leftovers you have in your backpack, whatever they may be. If you are looking for more info, check out the LeaveNoTrace Center for Outdoor Ethics or the GreenJournal.
2. Take the train, leave the car.  Across Vienna and its neighbouring towns, multiple initiatives have emerged promoting the use of public transport when venturing out to the mountains.  Under the catchy name Bahn-Zum-Berg, something like train-to-trail,  the campaign offers tips for tours that take under 2,5 hours to get to by public transport. The general idea here is that people should not leave a negative environmental footprint while trying to enjoy nature. In our parish, we have a few people who have perfected this already - and while they may not want to be in this blog, ask me and I’ll connect you
3. Leave wildlife - and nature - alone. This seems obvious - but how often do you see folks hiking off-trail, picking flowers, taking stones or sticks?  Or, even worse, letting their dogs roam free. Leaving nature alone means to not disturb nature - beyond the trails!  And so, yes, you should take photos and memories with you - but nothing else that you did not bring. As a dog owner myself I know the temptation of letting your four legged friend enjoy the new smells out there - but also here: Caution applies.
4. Protect - and pack - your water. Out of curiosity, a few months ago I signed up as a follower with the Mountain Rescue team (Bergwacht) in the Wiener Alpen. Just reading through the posts I was astonished by how many people seem to go for hikes either without packing any water or with packing too little and then end up having to be actually rescued because at some point their body refuses walking and they get stuck someplace. So: A simple - and please: non-plastic - bottle is what you do want to pack, nicely filled with that good fresh water we have here.
5. No fires, no fires, no fires. Most of us will have no problem respecting this rule - it's really just about being careful. Luckily - and that’s where you got to love October - we have had a good amount of rain over the past weeks, so there are no imminent risks of causing a wildfire. Sometimes when out there one will need to make a fire - particularly if you are out overnight and want to have that hot cup of tea or cook your stew for the night. Just be careful, careful careful.
With these points in mind: Off you go to enjoy God’s creation in October. And in the spirit of Creationtide, do consider taking St Francis’ Canticle of the Sun with you. Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures / especially through my lord Brother Sun / who brings the day; and you give light through him / And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!.
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