July Reflections: On Seeking Comfort from Nature

This year, as we all know too well, many of us had to cancel vacations, weddings, concerts, and other plans that had long been on the calendar in exchange for staying home; an unfair trade, especially after a spring of isolation. I’ve always found myself turning to nature in trying times. Growing up in northern Minnesota, I spent the majority of my time outside, and it’s a huge part of why I started Getaway. And this summer it seems like anyone who wasn’t already spending time outdoors is now. “Being outside” has, almost overnight, become our renewed collective refuge.  Not only a place where our uncomfortable reality seems a little more distant, but also a place where we can be emotionally and spiritually unburdened. 

Our love of nature is, of course, eternal.. In 1984, biologist E.O. Wilson was able to verbalize this connection when he coined the term “biophilia” which literally means “love of nature.” His hypothesis was that humans are hard wired by evolution to feel an emotional pull to other living things, be they animals or plants. And the positive health effects support that theory. It’s been proven that more time in nature results in less stress, less depression, less impulsivity, improved focus, and improved immune system function. Just a 30 minute walk in nature has been show to dramatically decrease negative thought patterns and lower heart rates. A recent study on patients recovering from surgery showed this in dramatic effect: those who had a view of nature  from their recovery room used less pain medication and were discharged more quickly. 

It seems plainly obvious that we need nature, but when life cranks at normal pace, it’s easy to lose sight of that need, in the same way many of us can forget to eat if we get lost in work or fun. Now that we’ve had no choice but to slow down, we’ve rediscovered the simple and powerful comfort of nature, as so many other forms of distraction disappeared. During the most locked down period of this pandemic, many of us city dwellers  saw a life without much nature. It wasn’t pretty, speaking personally. When some restrictions loosened, we ran outside, as evidenced by the full parking lots of every hike — at least near where I live And while we need to be sensitive to protecting nature as we benefit from it, the general trend of more time spent in nature is one I celebrate.

We’re all eager for our lives to return to at least some of the “before” picture, but let’s try to hang on to some of the good things we discovered in the “after.” For me, afternoon walks under the trees of my neighborhood and by the side of the East river have become a habit that won’t be easily broken, and I hope you’ve found some similar silver linings during this time.