FORT KENT, Maine — I’ll admit to being a bit taken aback by the story in this week’s paper describing a study indicating it may not be so easy to get exercise in rural areas.

The study cites lack of ready access to organized gyms or transportation for youngsters participating in extracurricular school activities as two of the prime obstacles.

Frankly, I’d like to invite the authors of the study to spend a week or two at my house where tending my small kennel of sled dogs, wrangling chickens, taking firewood from tree to stove and attending to the myriad of other chores associated with living in northern Maine means never having to belong to a gym.

Manual labor aside, the top of the state is a great place to stay active year-round.

In fact, I once heard someone describe living in Maine as being on vacation all the time.

Being active and getting exercise does not have to be an organized event, though there are plenty of those to be had between weekly bike rides in the summer and skiing events in the winter.

Nope, it can be as simple as taking an hour out of the day for a walk in the woods to check out what Mother Nature is up to as the seasons progress.

Right now, she’s waking everything up and a walk down a woods road, through a field and out to a beaver pond is a total sensory experience for the eyes, nose and ears.

Despite some unseasonably warm weather with soaking rains, there is still snow in the northern Maine woods and along dirt roads shaded from the sun.

Quite a bit of snow, actually, and in some spots well above the tops of my boots and it provided plenty of opportunity for my dog to get in some end-of-the-season snow play.

Walking — especially with a dog — is not only great exercise, it’s among the best stress relievers going. Plus, it’s free.

No phones, no computers, no televisions or iPods clamoring for attention.

Instead, there are the calls of the newly arrived robins and blackbirds mixed in with those of the yearround inhabitants like the ravens, chickadees and squirrels.

Down at the pond the noise was downright deafening as the two geese — I’m guessing a mated pair — were less than pleased to see a person show up with a dog which instantly invaded the pond amid great splashings.

The frogs, too, are awake and were doing their best to out-do the geese on the sound scale.

A little farther on there it was obvious not everything goes to ground during a Maine winter as the prime occupants of the beaver pond had been busy as, well as beavers, felling trees and tackling some major construction projects.

Spend any time really studying the tangle of sticks, logs, mud and leaves of a beaver dam and I dare you not to be impressed by their engineering skills and commitment to a job well done.

No fewer than five dams were creating the main pond and I counted at least four lodges.

Some days all we see are the birds and smaller critters that call northern Maine home.

On other walks we see moose, deer and, on one memorable occasion, a mother bear with her cub.

The bottom line is this: A walk in the Maine woods is never dull and it’s all out there outside our doors for the taking, official studies notwithstanding.

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.