Sense of Nature

SONY DSC

the only blooms we see so far, the cute little willows…

Yesterday felt like winter. Today, finally looks like spring.

Tis’ the season in Vermont, where every few hours it seems the weather changes. Sun and warmth are taken over by clouds and rain or a sudden chill, keeping us inside.  It can mess with our moods in such a profound way, sometimes making-or -breaking our whole outlook for the day, including our focus and drive.

On one of the two or three nice days we have had so far this spring, determined to get a little outside time, I met my husband at his office and we took a short hike up a steep cobble on his lunch hour. He tends to plow up through the woods, never the trail, scaling steep rocks and downed trees, never looking back to see how anyone else is doing. That’s fine with me, and I’m used to it, but I don’t particularly like steep, and am convinced that boot-makers have some conspiracy going where they never put a rugged-enough tread on women’s boots. Even when I purchase the same boot my husband gets, in women’s sizes, I’m slipping and sliding, and he’s got the rough tread to keep on going.

WP_20130409_001

the view from the top!

As he went straight up, I poked along in a safer, more round-about way, checking from side-to-side to see if there were any instances of green or new growth. I still managed to meet him at the top. It felt amazing to be outside, and we made a pact to make this happen every week where he isn’t traveling. It’s great exercise. Fantastic to get fresh air. And when he hasn’t left me too far behind, we actually have time to talk, think out-loud a bit, and not be interupted every few minutes by an 8-year-old who’s current fascination includes bizarre what-if scenarios involving Minecraft zombies and creepers and skeletons.

As we worked our way down back towards the office, our conversation drifted back to a reoccurring topic: the virtues of taking it outside. “See, when you climb over rocks and go down mountains, it’s really great cardio and great for the core too” says my hubby, “and I’m outside in the fresh air, not inside staring at the ground, a wall or a DVD, I feel much better after being out in the fresh air”.  He thinks I don’t agree, but I don’t dispute this at all. I love being outside, wouldn’t trade it for the world.  What he is actually trying to do is convince me we don’t need to do any additional strength training beyond what we would get on a hike….that’s where we differ.

I’m not out here today for the physical effects, but for my sanity! After this first hike of the year, I was walking on air, feeling great for the first time in months.

I am convinced I think much more clearly after even just a short walk by myself or with my dog, because when I’m outside around the trees, looking and listening to the sound of the river, the birds, and away from everything else like cell phones and computers, my mind wanders and I usually come back with a long list of ideas to write down about how to approach my goals. I have actually started scheduling my walks earlier in the day to be more productive, because I know it’s part of my thinking process. I also have a son who has enough energy for about 5 kids, and have found just by observation when he is outside looking for something, whether it’s frogs, salamanders or bugs, or his most recent find, a praying mantis egg sac, he is truly in his element. Calm. Happy. Engaged. Focused.

look mom! soon we’ll have 400 mantis babies in the house!

Currently I’m reading an eye-opening book called Last Child in the Woods-Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv. I was interested in reading this book for my son of course, but also because I believe we as people, as parents, need this for ourselves.

The basic premise of the book is that kids are not outside enough. They are too scheduled. Kids in suburbia and in cities have a tough time finding any place to play freely and safely, and that some locations, even rural areas, are so highly-regulated because of liability and restricted use, it’s causing kids to come inside, play video games, watch tv, and sit on their rear-ends instead.

This of course adds to a host of issues including obesity and attention problems, among them. And with technology today, people trade information for experience. They think they know everything because they can Google it. But in actuality, technology does not encourage any of us to be hands-on participants in nature,  just observers. Being a participant brings out healthy development of the senses, sparks creativity and “can improve cognitive abilities and resistance to negative stresses and depression“.

Being an observer, not so much…

Louv says “Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health, (and also, by the way, in our own.)” and “most parents have an acutely tuned sense of responsibility–to the point where they consider relaxing and leisure, for themselves or their children, a self-indulgent luxury. By taking nature out of the leisure column, and placing it in the health column, we are more likely to take our children on that hike–more likely to, well, have fun“.

The book goes on to describe examples of how natural landscapes and gardens have been known as restorative, and therapeutic for as far back as two thousand years. He notes studies indicating positive effects to people just by seeing a little green, or a natural setting out a window. Louv mentions research into “green exercise” is ongoing, and mostly for adults, and they “seem to benefit from “recess” in natural settings” as these settings help rejuvenate, restore and calm anxiety and depression.

I know I haven’t done the book justice with this short synopsis, because the message of the book goes in many different directions, but I love this, and agree wholeheartedly. Not just for kids, for us too, because who are we, but just grown up kids? A few days ago on my morning walk as I was thinking about this book, it made me wonder if there was an exact time in my life when I stopped thinking like a kid, and became this responsible, serious person I am now. When did I stop being a creative person? I had always loved hands on art projects and drawing and writing as a kid. I’m guessing my gradual decline in creativity started when my marketing career began after college, where I suddenly became a numbers person.  And then I wondered, was there an exact time when suddenly my need to be alone, or to have space and time to think, went away? Well, it never went away, I just stopped allowing it to happen, I’m guessing the moment my son was born.

Regardless, it isn’t right. There’s no reason I can’t reclaim that creativity, calm and focus, I just need to work at building a new, and more consistent habit.

The sun is peeking out, I can see from the window. A few willows are blooming and red-winged blackbirds and chickadees are singing away. No time for a hike and fitness debate with the husband today, but a quick walk down by the river with Balsam will wake the senses and get me through the day. I hope whether you are at work or home, you can stop, look and enjoy a little time outside today, even if you only have few minutes to peek at a little green.

Remember, it’s not an added luxury, it’s for your health too.

Happy spring!

More information about the Children and Nature Movement:
http://www.childrenandnature.org/

Last Child in the Woods
http://amzn.com/156512605X