Nature can bring you to stillness. That is its gift to you.
I am just back from Zion National Park in Southwest, UT. My three and a half days in the park came as a celebration of the 50th birthdays of five college buddies and myself. In addition to a wonderful opportunity to commune with those good friends, the trip offered a much-needed opportunity to commune with the natural world in a place where Mother Nature has performed, and continues to perform, some of her most stunning work.
A 4-mile hike to Observation Point took us from the canyon floor at 4,200 feet above sea level to about 6,400 feet and an inspiring view of the geologic wonders of this high desert. Shades of white, red, orange, and brown rock, matched with the deep green of desert fauna, played in the dance of light and shadow coming from deep blue skies dashed with spritz of white clouds.
A similar length splash through Zion’s famous “Narrows” led us to moments of quiet reflection and wonder. Although even on the main channel the number of hikers could not diminish the canyon's beauty, my partner and I found our way a few hundred yards down a less-traveled corridor off the main canyon channel. That path, bounded by walls hundreds of feet high that nonetheless allowed a splinter of warming sunlight to grace our journey, gave us even more stillness to savor.
A short hike along the western rim of Zion, replete with its own desert colors, was peaceful, quiet and mind-settling, even when a crisis of misplaced car keys reared its head. Our ears were rewarded with bird song, the blowing wind, and the sound of our feet touching the red earth.
Nature is good medicine for the body and soul. For me, the quiet and remoteness of Zion (where my cell phone was good only for taking photos but not for “connecting” with the outside world) provided a respite from the seemingly never-ending human-created stimuli of modern life in metro DC. As I walked on paths, I noticed the fall of each of my footsteps. I observed wildflowers and delicate leaves and the way they blew gently in the breeze and wildly in strong winds. I appreciated the flow of fresh water and the miraculous carvings it had made of solid rock.
I mentioned to a friend that nature is good for us and that I am currently reading a book on that topic. (Nature Fix by Florence Williams). He quickly agreed. I imagine most of us—most of humanity—would agree. It is not so controversial that a walk in the woods, a hike up a hill or mountain, or a float down a river will allow us to reset and to feel calmer and more at peace.
If we can so easily agree that nature is good for us, can we also enthusiastically agree to the inverse, that a lack of nature is not good for us? I won’t rant now about screens—they can be really useful. Rather, I assert that regardless of how we are spending our indoor time and our city time, we are simply having too much of it for our own good. And too little time in nature.
If we can agree to the inverse of the obvious, then what can we do to ensure that all of us—from senior citizens to my cohort of 50-somethings to millennials to little kids—get the hell out into nature more often?
There is an increasing amount of literature about this, from Ms. Williams book to the “nature-deficit disorder” movement started by Richard Louv, to many others. When the answer is as simple as “Just go outside!” that’s great. No excuses. Just do it.
However, sometimes the answer isn’t that simple. Some folks just don’t live in places with any nearby wild space. Solutions – from redesign of our urban places to rethinking education, parenting, vacation time, and more—will accelerate only when there are enough of us making the case.
So, I am making the case here and appreciate your making the case if you agree. Regardless, do yourself a favor and get yourself the hell out into nature. Take a friend. Take a kid. Take someone who wouldn’t otherwise go. And, when you return from the top of the mountain or from the heart of the woods or from the banks of the river, tell all those who will listen that nature is a profound medicine for body and soul.