“Through falling leaves I pick my way slowly
Talking aloud – eases my mind…
Doo doo doo…
Dee dee dee…
Nature – enter me…”
(Nature [abridged] – lyrics by Wayne Mason, 1969)
The iconic kiwi hit ‘Nature’ which was made famous by Fourmyula in the late 60s, conjures images of New Zealand native bush and the distinctive sound of the tui for me. Over and above these sensory delights, we know that spending time in nature is good for us: it has this amazing power to restore, reduce stress, lift our spirits and even inspire. How good do you feel when you are strolling in the bush/woodland, swimming in the sea, gazing at a beautiful sunset or reading a book in a park? While there are many obvious physical health benefits associated with being outdoors, nature’s ability to influence our mental health and overall well being can be difficult to describe.
On the flipside, nature can also be cold, wet, unpredictable and make us feel uncomfortable. After being exposed to some horrific weather in both work and play, I can attest to this: biking up Wellington’s Makara Peak or Edinburgh’s Pentland Hills during gale force winds/rain/sleet/all of the above are particular experiences that come to mind. [Thanks to some special friends who relentlessly encourage me to pursue these outings regardless of the conditions – you know who you are!]. On balance though, my experiences of nature and the outdoors have been more positive than negative. And upon reflection there’s always positives in the negatives! Sometimes referred to as ‘Type 2 fun‘.
Despite what we know and love about nature and the outdoors, modern lifestyles seem to be continually drawing us away and disconnecting us from nature. More of us live in urban areas than ever before and this is expected to grow. On top of this, we are obsessed with technology, which is often hard to escape from. Even as a nature-lover, my writing and other pursuits often tend to require me to be in front of a screen. There’s also a growing body of evidence suggesting that our divergence from nature is limiting our consciousness of environmental problems and our ability to solve them. Could spending more time in nature enhance our understanding of and connection to it?
I’ve been blessed with good health, mobility and have lived in places like Edinburgh, Wellington and Brisbane where access to the outdoors is relatively easy. Because of this, I’ve had numerous adventures and been able to explore natural areas within or close to towns and cities where I’ve lived, so that interactions with nature are now essential for me. I realise that for many different reasons, my adventurous way of life may not be attainable or desirable to everyone. However, we know we need nature in our lives. And in a way, because of the damage we are collectively inflicting upon it, nature also needs us.
So, my challenge to you is to think about ways you can incorporate time in nature and the outdoors into your lifestyle. I can hear you saying, “But I’m not adventurous or sporty or outdoorsy like you… I don’t like riding bikes… I don’t have the right clothing… I don’t have transport to get to these places… I don’t have time… It’s cold, rainy, etc…” As with anything, there’s many things that could hold you back, that don’t need to. My advice is to think about easy ways you can get frequent doses of nature. Obviously these will be dependent on where you live, your lifestyle and other priorities you have.
Find a park to go sit in for 15 minutes during your lunch break. Walk, run, cycle or swim (!) all or part of the way to work once a week and incorporate some natural areas in your route. Head out of town or the city on the weekend to a nature reserve, hill, lake/loch, park or beach. Explore nature within urban areas. If you are adventurous or just a wanna-be adventurer, take Al Humphreys’ advice and start going on micro adventures. Or consider Richard Louv’s suggestions of ways to connect with nature every day. And if you know someone who might not otherwise get outdoors, invite them to come along with you. Whatever you do, make it work for you. You owe it to yourself and your family. And you owe it to nature.