I was nothing more than forest. Through wind, fog, and rain, I saw life more clearly than ever before.
Last Saturday was special because I spent most of my day outside. The adventure began in the early afternoon, with a trip to the University of California, Davis (UCD) arboretum.
This beautiful garden spot never fails to leave me feeling peaceful and calm, even though it’s within shouting distance of Interstate 80, that coast-to-coast freeway of commerce and commuters.
But once inside the arboretum all thoughts of traffic fall away. Then I’m content to walk the paths that meander along Putah Creek, and fill myself up with the abundance of native and mediterranean plants that grow there.
First stop, though, is always the horse paddock. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, UCD is affectionately known as “the farm,” harkening back to its early days as the farm school extension of UC Berkeley. And its agriculture programs are legendary.
Think acres of campus farmland. Viticulture and enology (a fancy way to say grape growing and wine making). Environmental horticulture. Animal Science.
And of course, the equestrian facilities.
So what better way to start the afternoon than pressing into a fence, wooing a group of horses over to you, and stroking those sturdy neck muscles? I mean, truly, is there anything better than holding out your flat palm for a horse’s warm kiss, and experiencing the sensation of that velvety muzzle?
But, I digress.
Once we got our fill of all things horsey, off we went to experience the arboretum’s gifts. A dreamy stroll. Then a vigorous walk. Capped with a timeout on a bench overlooking all of the arboretum’s beauty.
And then, back home. Reading outside. An early dinner on the patio. Puttering around the garden. A little pruning here. A little deadheading there. Soaking in the spa (or hot tub – I’m never sure what to call it) during that magic hour between day and night that filmmakers so prize. Watching the almost-full moon inch its way up behind the redwood trees, still burnished gold by the sun’s last rays. And finally, plopping in chairs, candles lit as darkness descends. Sitting quietly in the stillness, listening to the crickets practice their vocal warm ups.
All told, about seven hours spent outdoors. A wonderful day.
But I do have a point, beyond the play-by-play of this particular day.
In its simplest form, my point is about spending more time outside.
Although I had a glorious (and unusual for me) seven hours, did you know that it takes as little as five minutes to reap the emotional benefits of time spent outdoors? And those benefits are huge: enhanced self-esteem, elevated mood, stress relief, increased life expectancy, and protection from depression.
Consider what Jo Barton, co-author of a recent study on the subject, said:
Humans largely live inside, but because of our evolution as hunter-gatherers, we may feel more relaxed and connected moving out in nature.
The magic combination, it appears, is movement and a natural setting. Almost any kind of movement – walking, gardening, strolling, dancing, twirling, running, skipping, jumping, stretching – done in nature does the trick.
So get thee to a park. Or open space. Or simply walk around a tree a few times.
Anything that will let your inner hunter-gatherer roam a bit more.
OK. Now this is where I come to the more complicated point I want to make. (There always is one, right?)
I love parks and open spaces.
I’ve been lucky to live near some great ones: Central Park in New York, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Vilas Park in Madison, WI, American River Parkway in Sacramento, Sonoma Coast State Park in Northern California.
I even spent my 18th summer working in Yellowstone National Park.
Although I was just a waitress, I had a blast. Somehow, the challenges of aching feet and cheesy blue polyester uniforms disappeared when I walked out my door each day and discovered a land of geysers, waterfalls, wildflowers, lakes, mountains, and canyons. Not to mention bears, wolves, bison, and elk.
But now, years later, the parks and open spaces in my community are suffering.
The parks and open spaces in my state are suffering.
And although I haven’t visited one lately, I hear the National Parks in my country are suffering too.
This makes me sad, especially because I know it’s about more than a lack of funds.
Certainly, resources are scarce these days. But more to my point, interest in parks and open spaces is scarce.
In fact, a phrase has been coined to describe this lack of interest: nature-deficit disorder. It’s even been suggested that an entire generation has lost touch with the natural world.
How, I wonder, did we arrive at this place? And more important, why do we stay here?
I don’t have an answer. But I do know that the best thing for me to do right now is take a bit of my own advice and go walk around a tree or two.
I’m about halfway through the book. I’ve discovered that not only is Robin a modern-day Dr. Dolittle, having deep soulful conversations with the wild creatures of the forest, but she’s a rip-roaring storyteller as well. And boy, does she have stories.
As a matter of fact, Robin’s journey to find herself in the depths of the Australian rainforest is a striking testament to the power of nature to heal and bring us back to ourselves.
If ever there was a woman to inspire us to reconnect with this essential part of our humanity, it’s Robin.
So yes, I’ll keep reading. And moving through nature as often as I can.
WHY NOT START NOW?