The Blog Post In Which I Applaud Nature Exposure and Utilize the Word, "Shoo."
In August 2016, I stepped outside for the David Suzuki Foundation's 30x30 Nature Challenge (now called the "One Nature Challenge"). The premise is simple: go outside (for real, i.e., go to a place where things grow, *not* to the mall) for at least a half hour. Repeat for 30 days. Pay attention to the mental and physical benefits.
At the time, parenting was my day job. My husband had time off in the summers, and having the whole household at home during those weeks had its rewards and challenges. Make no mistake: we've cherished that family time. It's been a gift to help us grow closer and to create lasting memories. That being said, I'm becoming a firm believer that everyone has different, shall we say, 'social interaction thresholds.' I, for example, turn into a cranky, short-fused she-bear if I don't get enough time alone.
I'm coming to accept that my need for space doesn't make me a bad person. I can love another with all my heart while also needing time to myself. I often think, process and produce best when I'm alone. It's when I can fully settle and re-charge. The result, usually, is that I can offer my better, more engaged self when we're together again.
"Screen time" is becoming a familiar and cringe-worthy phrase in many of our households. While necessary for most of us, for one reason or another (I write this to post on my website as my kids participate in online distance-learning due to pandemic regulations), we're in real danger of the consequences. We get entangled in our news feeds, our boundary-less work obligations, and social e-dramas. In August of 2016, I was more than ready to step outside the household - literally - both to unplug from my devices and to escape to Solitude Land.
Enter the Nature Challenge, which I learned of through one of my social media feeds (I guess they're good for something). How fortuitous to embark on a daily routine that would accomplish both! Each day that month, to participate in the challenge, I visited a local trail on my own. I walked, and walked, and walked some more. I breathed deeply. And I brought my camera.
(Here, I must thank my husband. He shooed me out the door, told me to take my time, and looked after the littles' needs so I wouldn't have to rush back. He gets me.)
While I had a passing interest in photography, I hadn't done anything to pursue it until that point. Grabbing the camera on my way out was an attempt to use the time alone to try and make sense of how to use it properly.
I fumbled my way around the buttons and dials, making pictures every day during my walk. The images here are a few of hundreds I made during that month. Photography became part of the routine; a way to document what I noticed. And I was noticing more outdoors than I had for a very long time. With no one to supervise or to distract me, I learned to be more present in my surroundings. My senses, gradually, seemed to awaken from some stupefied slumber. Behold: the squawks of birds! The texture of bark! The plumpness of berries!
My mind's eye opened like a blossom unfurling. I didn't actually notice this happening until a few weeks in. I could leave the house balled up tight, but once I fell into the rhythm of walking, once I started paying attention to the way the early-morning light rimmed the leaves, I loosened up. Being outside with my camera became a pretty decent muscle-relaxant for both my body and my brain.
My 30x30 challenge didn't stop at either "30." My summer outings, most days, lasted a couple of hours. And I continued my outdoor visits into the fall and even (gasp!) into the winter months - those dark days in which my only outside-time used to occur while scurrying, like a startled chipmunk, from my front door to the car and back again. While I may not get out on the trail daily now, it has remained a regular and necessary part of my routine.
Photography, too, has stayed with me. It has become a way of appreciating and interpreting the magic of the wind's impressions on the grasses and the sunlight's dance on the water.
I think we like to quantify things. We like (and need) the scientific method. We like stats, calculations and evidence. For example, adopting a new healthy habit can measurably improve our blood pressure, our muscle tone, our stamina. The numbers, should we choose to analyze them, can prove it. Other times, outcomes are more abstract. The 30x30 Nature Challenge meant more to me than 900 minutes outside. Beyond an appreciation of nature, it opened up an opportunity for reflective solitude and creative expression. Along with other lifestyle and mindset changes I began to practice at that time, I saw changes. I can't really provide numerical data, so I'll make some up (disclaimer: these numbers are entirely unscientific and I've plucked them out of nowhere to illustrate my point): Let's see...I'm 27% more observant...31% more confident in coping with day-to-day life...99% more certain that everyone should spend more time outside.
This experience, for me, has spawned a renewed concern about environmental issues. Our relationship with nature is in a sad state of affairs. Our disconnection grows, and that is, simply, bad news. We make daily choices that support modern comforts and conveniences, even with the knowledge that, at this rate, we'll be paying a hefty price down the road.
I'm intrigued by the growing movements to help us remember the ways of our ancestors - to respect and care for the Earth, to learn the ways it can sustain and heal us, to use only what we need, to understand that our existence and well-being is inherently intertwined with Earth's. Part of this understanding requires that we re-acquaint ourselves with nature - even a little bit at a time, to start. Say, 30 minutes a day?
I still like sitting on my couch as much as the next guy. But I've learned that I need time outdoors, in natural spaces, to help me feel grounded. In a time when many of us are struggling with the effects of the pandemic and heated politics, on top of our usual challenges, we need nature (and art!) more than ever.
Here, again, is the link to the One Nature Challenge: https://davidsuzuki.org/take-action/act-locally/one-nature-challenge/.
Try it. Consider this my way of shooing you out the door.