An especially cold and snowy northern winter, with grey skies, snowstorms and cold temperatures has kept many of us indoors. With spring just around the corner, the warming temperatures, spring birdsongs and newly budding plants invite us to enjoy the many benefits of being out in nature.
Today’s modern lifestyle has brought an abrupt change in the environment in which people spend their time. Before the industrial age, people spent much more time outdoors than we do today. In today’s urban society, many will spend the greater part of their time indoors, surrounded by cement and the noise from electronics and machines. Richard Louv, author of the book Last Child in the Woods, has called this estrangement from the natural world “Nature Deficit Disorder”.
There is growing evidence that one of the best ways to deal with stress and depression is to beat stress with a walk in nature. Simply immersing in the slower, calmer rhythms of nature has many proven health benefits, with the added benefit of being free. Choose a natural setting near you such as a park or natural area, take that pause to be in the moment, and enjoy an immersion in nature. This becomes a moving meditation, a mindfulness meditation to restore health and become centered and grounded.
There is a movement to treat stress and depression by prescribing a walk in nature. There are various names for this kind of prescription, such as forest therapy, eco-therapy, green therapy, nature therapy or earth-centered therapy. As little as five minutes spent in nature can be effective in reducing stress and depression.
Birding and stargazing are two wonderful and easy outdoor activities that can enrich your enjoyment of nature. These are free activities that you can do from your own backyard, while out on a nature walk or out on a camping trip. These can be done alone if you seek quiet and solitude, or if you need to replenish your need for social interaction, join in with a group activity. These are free activities that many are finding to be a perfect way to enjoy and grow their connection with nature.
Bird watching is the fastest growing outdoor activity in America. Observing birds in the wild is a beautiful way to more deeply connect with nature, inspiring us with their song and power of flight. You can observe birds in your own backyard, at a nearby park, or while taking a walk at a local natural area. Birds are a great way to better understand your local environment; they are important clues to the overall health of your natural ecosystem. You can even participate in citizen science through Cornell University’s FeederWatch program, where you collect data from your own backyard bird feeders and send in your data. Cornell’s E-bird site collects citizen data from your observations while bird watching out in the field.
A fun way to learn more about birds using your smartphone is to get a birding app, which will help identify birds and recognize some of their songs and calls. The Nature Conservancy offers a webpage which reviews the best birding apps for your smartphone.
While observing birds in the field is often done while on a nature walk in our favorite park or natural area, one of the very best way to observe birds is to sit quietly in one spot and let the birds come to you. Actually, they are already there, but when we move through an area, oftentimes the disturbance will cause the native wildlife to go quiet. If we sit quietly, after about twenty minutes, the birds and animals will gradually resume their daily activities; this is when we will enjoy the best observations.
Stargazing is another activity that is best done while sitting quietly. Stargazing is also one of the fastest-growing outdoor activities in America. Observing the night sky has fascinated humans since the very earliest civilizations. The movement of the stars inspired the building of many ancient historic sites that were devoted to the observation of stars and their movements as relate to the seasons.
There is a deep satisfaction in gazing at the night sky, bringing a sense of awe and appreciation for a wider view of our place in the universe. Just sitting out in nature on a beautiful starry night will lower stress levels and instill a feeling of alert calmness as we watch the ever-changing landscape of the sky. Making a date to watch the meteor showers when they make their annual appearances is especially awe-inspiring.
The Business Insider website has a great review of the best stargazing apps for your smartphone. These are a great way to get to know the night sky, and observe the star motions as they change through each night and over the seasons.
One more way to add a little to your nature walks is to participate in geocaching, a world-wide treasure hunting game played in the outdoors, using GPS. Each cache contains at least a logbook you can log into. A cache may also contain items left by previous visitors. You go online to find the GPS location of a geocache in your area, or an area you visit on vacation, then go outdoors and find it. This outdoors treasure hunt game has become a family favorite, as even the youngest children love a treasure hunt. You can use technology to enhance your experience by getting geocaching apps for your smart phone.
I’ve shared a few of my favorite outdoor activities here. Each of these has enriched my understanding and awareness of the natural world. Each of the activities can be done alone for those times when we need some personal quiet time, or shared with friends and family. In a time when children spend so much time indoors, these are especially valuable activities that can be precious time shared with our families, including the younger family members. I hope these ideas have been inspiring for you. I’d love to hear about your experiences; please write in to our Comments area below.
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