As I have gotten older, I have realized the importance of nature. It is proven to improve your physical and emotional health. The book The Nature Fix by Florence Williams is an interesting book that describes the science behind this, but you really don’t need data to understand the power of nature. Nature has been a focus for art and poetry since the beginning of time. You can just feel the difference after spending time in fresh air. A few years ago, I realized that hiking was an incredible antidote to sadness or stress. It is impossible to feel unhappy standing at the top of a mountain, it just is. It makes you feel good both during and after, which cannot be said for a lot of other fun activities.
For a while I was listening to the podcast, Wild Ideas Worth Living by REI, that interviews people who live incredible outdoors lifestyles. The interviewees have traveled the world, hiked for weeks at a time, broken world records, and do all sorts of incredible things. It is cool and inspiring to listen to but made me wonder if I was doing enough. Sometimes it feels like I go to work and then just go home, if I really love nature so much why am I never out there? Even following people on social media or seeing advertisements for “outdoorsy brands” make it seem like everyone is out their camping, backpacking, or doing extreme sports all the time. The biggest thing I have done was hiking the Inca Trail after college and I loved it. I would love for more outdoors adventure in my life and Matt and I try to incorporate this into our plans when we can.
However, I also like my home and being with my pets. I like visiting friends and family and seeing new cities not just being in remote places. I like building a career, saving money, and so many other things. Basically, the outdoors is a big priority, but not the only one, and right now we are at a time in our life when backpacking for four weeks isn’t something we are going to choose to do. It makes me wonder; do you have to go on elaborate trips to enjoy nature? Do you have to live somewhere trendy, buy certain brands, or go famous places to be a nature-lover? Marketers want you to believe this, and I think it is important for people to try and notice when this is happening.
It is fairly easy for me to say no to designer brands since I know that is not what I value, but it is harder when a brand claims to be good for you or to make your life better. I do value going outside and sometimes there is necessary gear or worthwhile travel expenses. There is a reason people often pay more to live near the beach or the mountains, but those are not the only places to enjoy the outdoors. Every single place on this Earth has something awesome and amazing to enjoy. Even if you are busy, live somewhere that is not “known” for nature, or just prefer the comforts of being inside, you can notice and appreciate the world around you. This falls in with gratitude and experiencing awe. And it can be done by anyone.
I am also writing this in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. Pretty much everyone is housebound. Matt and I are lucky enough to still be allowed outside and parks in Virginia are still open (but not beaches). Not everyone has this luxury, but luckily some of my ideas below do not even involve going outside! It sounds crazy but nature is like love, always closer than you think.
Here are some specific tactics to enjoy the outdoors without going far away:
- Become a local tourist- explore local, often inexpensive, delightful places wherever you live. Think farmers’ markets, parks, botanic gardens, hiking trails, or small farms with tasty treats. Look online for smaller places that maybe don’t get as much recognition. You might find some hidden gems! Last year for Christmas, Matt bought me a family pass to the botanic gardens here in Norfolk and it has been the best purchase. We always bring friends or family there and there are different things to do during different seasons. A friend and I just brought a wine and cheese picnic there and it was delightful. My parents and I went right when places were beginning to shut down for the virus and we picked out our favorite flowers and viewed the outdoor Lego exhibit that was on display.
- Pick up trash- Matt and I just did this last weekend in the park near our house. We were looking for a way to support the community during COVID-19 but didn’t want to be around people and don’t have a ton of extra time. We brought out trash bags and some gloves and picked up 7 big bags of trash from the creek. Right after, a mother duck and a bunch of baby ducklings coming and playing right where we had cleaned. How rewarding!
- Do other things outside- Eat outside as a picnic or on a deck or porch if you have one. For some reason that just makes everything feel festive and special. Read or work outside in lawn/beach chairs or even just on a blanket. It feels great!
- Walk the neighborhood- there might not be viral pictures of suburban neighborhoods but if you look, there are things to see. Walk the same route each week and notice your favorite plants or trees. See how things change and feel a sense of community among the houses or buildings. Try to find a wild animal friend. Matt and I have these crazy looking ducks called Muscovy ducks that look almost like turkeys. During our time working at home we have looked up how to identify males versus females and named each of the ducks in the area. We look for them every day and take lots of pictures. We have noticed is a Muscovy duck love triangle going on and it is pretty scandalous!
- Get some plants- Last weekend with all the depressing COVID-19 news I felt I just had to bring some more life and joy into my life. I bought 5 little herbs and plan on enjoying taking care of them and hopefully cooking with them.
- Try something sustainable. You can also support nature with the choices you make inside your home. We are trying out cloth napkins, cloth paper towels, and reusable plastic bags. So far they are going pretty well! I found some cute cloth paper towels on Etsy and the cloth napkins and plastic bags on Amazon. One of my best friends just started her own blog on sustainable tips and information. Check it out here!
- Delight in the seasons- Enjoy seasonal scents, colors, decorations, foods, or crafts. For whatever activity you like doing anyway, see if you can enhance it with a seasonal theme. Nature creates a rhythm that we are all in tune with yet is so much bigger than ourselves. It can bring special joy to include this in everyday life.
- Look outside- This sounds like a no-brainer, but it is so easy to stop paying attention to what is on the other side of the window. Take time to notice sunrises and sunsets. Watch the progression of the moon or angles of the sun. See how weather and seasons change. During regular times I have a 45-minute commute that is easy to resent. Yet, every day I drive under a tunnel under Norfolk harbor and see all the ships and cranes against the morning skyline. I remember how cool that is and how I couldn’t see that many other places.
Most of these things are just noticing, savoring delight, or creating joy. That is all you need to be a nature-lover. We are all explorers of the world, no matter where we live or what we do.