“Keep close to Nature's heart...break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” – John Muir
The Victorian era brought about a strange and romantic mix of valor, strength, and softness. In an age of “refined-sensibilities”, reason began to put everything under scrutiny: religion, science, philosophy, even how we worked and lived. By the turn of the 20th century, gymnasiums had become popular, though different from what we see today. People had begun to realize the necessary benefits of a “Physical Culture” in a time when living was becoming ever easier. And, though we are still working towards a life of self-control and fitness during what has become an obesity epidemic, we acknowledge the need and benefits of purposeful physical activity and see a culture shifting to once again adopt it as a pillar of daily life.
In much the same way, I believe there is another cultural shift that needs to be made; a recognition of nature as being vital to our health and well-being.
The Vital Romance
“Forests, lakes, and rivers, clouds and winds, stars and flowers, stupendous glaciers and crystal snowflakes - every form of animate or inanimate existence, leaves its impress upon the soul of man.” – Orison Swett Marden
Cutting out to nature for a family vacation is nothing new; our parks are filled with campers and tourist. However, just as we know exercising for a month out of the year is not going to lead to better health and a longer life, we shouldn’t expect the chance get-away to keep us filled with that refreshing wonderment that we experience in the out-of-doors.
There is particular concern here for the latest generations who have grown up at a time of unprecedented comfort and availability of media. Muir’s famous quote, “The mountains are calling and I must go,” still rings true for those of us who know the call of the mountains, but for those who have grown up with such limited exposure to the outdoors, and very little time to “listen”, the call may go unheeded. It is hard not to compare the warning signs of a burgeoning fast-food nation in the 20th century, to the ails we are experiencing today with our youth: ADD\ADHD, Depression, and Anxiety. Studies are beginning to show how time in nature can have a healing impact on these issues, and in many cases, greater than medication. Yet, we often see excursions into nature as the exception – the extra, once in a while – rather than the rule. This likely stems from a growing trust in “the new” and scientific and a distrust of the natural and instinctual. In other words, happiness is so often sold in a package or held in our hands that we forget to look for it in the wooded hills and countryside.
The Resolute Man of Nature
“It is one great purpose of the Park to supply to the hundreds of thousands of tired workers, who have no opportunity to spend their summers in the country, a specimen of God’s handiwork that shall be to them, inexpensively, what a month of two in the White Mountains or the Adirondacks is, at great cost, to those in easier circumstances.” – Fredrick Law Olmsted, Conservationist and Designer of New York’s Central Park
One doesn’t have to become a hippy or go full Transcendentalist (never go full Transcendentalist) to make experiencing nature a priority, but it does require concerted effort. In the case of most modern, westernized cultures, the majority of our income goes towards owning and building up a home. We save for retirement (if possible) and look forward to the days when our kids are out of the house and we are able to travel more. It’s not difficult to see the flaw in this plan if our goal is to live bold and healthy lives. In order to experience more natural goodness in our lives we have got to prioritize “getting out there” and we have to do so in a time when it is harder and harder to get away from the confines of the city.
Here are a few ways my family has found to get out of doors more often:
Boy scouts – After trying out Cub Scouts and being terribly disappointed, I was reluctant to sign one of my sons up for Boy Scouts. However, the atmosphere is a lot more mature and there is some outing once a month if not more.
Go for a hike – We live in Charlotte, NC so the mountains are just an hour or two away. Taking a day trip for a hike to some waterfalls is pretty easy.
Enter a 5k or another race – Get off the “dreadmill” and get outside! Trail races are the best but as most of the time is spent training, find a park to run in at least once a week even if the other days are spent on asphalt.
Hunting – Though finding a spot has been a challenge, the time spent scouting and hunting is an excellent way to get out of doors when the weather is cool. Even if you don’t bag a big buck you’ll have time alone with your thoughts which is worth the price of ammo.
The goal of this article isn’t to simply say, “get outside more” rather, it is to call attention to the serious nature deficit that is occurring. When we know nature, we better know ourselves, God, and others. We find our thoughts more organized and new ideas begin to spring up. The influences of media begin to fold away and our priorities become clearer. Like Muir said, we “wash our spirit clean.”