let’s take a walk

by

At the small college I went to in — well, a long time ago — I was fortunate to enjoy fascinating classes, inspiring professors, and the best of friends. And, like a lot of college students, I was often sleep-deprived, stressed, and overwhelmed.

But I was also deeply in love with the place itself, a small campus set amongst thousands of acres of forest. Even now, more than twenty years later, those woods still feel like home whenever I visit.

During the four years I lived in that leafy wonderland, two of the things that could always get me out of my head and help lighten my mood were solitary walks in nature, and photography. Both separately and together, these became my personal form of meditation.

 

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When I took the time to focus on the way light filters through leaves and fog; or on the interplay of sunlight and shadows on hundred-year-old architectural details; or, at night, on the sounds of insects and frogs and the sight of thousands of fireflies in the trees and stars in the sky — these things had an amazing capacity to clear and calm my mind.

As John Burroughs, a late-nineteenth-century “literary naturalist,” once wrote, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, to have my senses put in order.”

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And, of course, it’s not just me and John Burroughs who feel this way.

In an article posted on Psychology Today’s website in March 2016, Amy Green wrote …

“I’m sure many of us could describe the restorative effect of turning our faces into the sun on the first day that feels like spring, sitting near a body of water and observing the waves, or going for a walk at lunchtime to break up a day in the office. Well, that restorative feeling might not be so subjective: research suggests that spending time outdoors can improve our mood and self esteem [and] decrease our stress levels. But how? Stephen Kaplan [writing on the restorative benefits of nature in 1995] would say it’s because nature helps us to recover from “directed attention fatigue,” which he describes as: “Any time one has worked intensely on a project and subsequently finds oneself mentally exhausted.” … Shutting down our computers and getting into natural environments helps us rest our minds, recover from mental fatigue, and, as a result, mitigate our stress — all things that support our overall wellness.”

And there’s more.

Another PsychologyToday.com article, from July 2015, says this (emphasis added) … “To stay focused, we need to give our minds a rest periodically even during a workday. It turns out that natural environments — and even photos of nature — provide a unique kind of rest. They allow you to relax your attention but also keep other parts of your mind engaged, in beneficial ways.”

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With our overarching theme of home, books, and reading … you’re probably wondering how the benefits of walking in the woods or looking at photos of trees fit in, exactly. Well, to my way of thinking, they can be tied together in a couple of significant ways.

If, like me, one of the places you feel most comfortable and “at home” is outside, in a natural setting, you probably strive — whether you realize it or not — to bring that natural-world peace into your own private spaces. That effort can be as major as choosing your neighborhood on the basis of its tree canopy, or choosing your house on the basis of how many windows it has and whether there’s a shady front porch to relax on. Or it can be something as (relatively) simple as planting a garden, or even just bringing fresh flowers inside each week.

And if you’ve done all, or even some of these things — or if you’ve displayed your favorite photos of peaceful places in your house — you already have most of what you need right there, ready and waiting, whenever you need a “nature break.” Don’t want to go out of your way to your “home away from home” spot in nature? Or do you only have a few minutes to spare? Have a seat on the grass, or on the shady porch, and soak up the fresh air.

 

mug of tea