Many years ago, on my first mountain biking trip to Moab, I was standing on the top of a crazy steep rock face, dotted with paint that clearly indicated the trail. It looked vertical, how could I ride a bike down that? “Basic physics,” is what my friends said. Okay, fine. I never took physics, but it sounded reasonable. And, after looking at it a while, down I rolled. Fast, fun and eye-opening. Science meets an open mind.
I was super lucky to grow up semi-feral, mostly outside and with a lot of time in the mountains, though as I grew up, I fancied myself a city girl: sharp, fast and attentive. After living in San Francisco, and not spending much time in the outdoors beyond Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach, I took a trip to Arizona. Driving south out of Phoenix, the rolling hills covered with saguaro soldiers unfolded before me. I literally gasped. I felt, physically, my mind unclench. It reminded me of all my earlier experiences of vastness, like being at the top of any mountain in Colorado, or floating in the Pacific Ocean. These are landscapes that reveal your place in it as a small but relevant participant. This was something I needed in my life again.
Since then, I have consistently sought out vast landscapes throughout the west and grown weary of the city. And guess what? That good feeling I get from being out there? Science says it’s not just me, but we all benefit from awe. Whaddya know.
The Nature Fix, by Florence Williams, is chock full of scientific nuggets like this that will have you nodding in agreement.
Technology is not helping people be involved with nature (despite bird call identification and star finding apps, and my personal fave, Peakfinder). People are spending more time inside and sedentary, and getting fat and sick. Those who are outside, but mediating the experience by using technology, gain some social connection, but not necessarily stress reduction. Spending time in nature, sans screens, ear buds and Strava, drops your blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol levels and it lowers anxiety and boosts your immune system.
It is only recently, relatively speaking, that humans started spending so much time indoors. We are, after all, creatures that evolved to be in nature. Outside, in nature, we engage all five senses and are “fully, physically alive.” Isn’t that what we are all looking for?
These things are intuitive to those of us who crave and seek out wild and unspoiled landscapes, but now that it is science and we have facts? Maybe it’s time to start a nature revolution! I know facts are having a rough go of it lately, but the self-help/self-improvement/alternative healing movements are alive and well… if a daily hit of pure, unadulterated nature is what the doctor orders, people will be healthier and happier and perhaps a little more inclined to keeping nature around.