Somewhere around high school, I stopped engaging with the natural world because I was busy negotiating all the new expectations that were filling my head and defining my life. But then the pandemic hit “pause” for all of us and the very possibility of fulfilling these internalized expectations nearly disappeared. Without many options for things to do or places to go, I started to explore my yard, my neighborhood, and the local forests.
When some of my responsibilities were put on hold — the very things that gave me a sense of productivity and self — I had to look elsewhere for meaning. So I looked to the only thing that felt real, tangible, safe: nature. In my mind, there appeared to be nowhere else to go to escape the dark abyss of overthinking. I once again became a curious child in my own backyard.
There was one particular walk that I did almost daily — the same exact route around the same exact hill — and for weeks I was a regular on that rocky trail. The weather shifted, the flowers bloomed and died, the trees changed color — but still I walked that rocky trail, grateful for the familiarity and sense of space that started to anchor my brain.
What was happening? Why did the issues and problems of the world seem smaller when I separated myself from manmade structures? Even on the days when it was hard to get out of bed, I felt in my core that I just needed to get outside. It helped my whirling brain slow down.
When I arrived back home following a hike, or run, or walk, or bike ride, I was more excited to cook dinner, or sit and write a blog post, or clean the house. My sense of motivation and experience of calm returned, even if it was only temporary. I could focus.
Nature is working its magic on us, but why did it take a pandemic for us to wake up to her wonders once again? Numerous studies confirm that being in nature can reduce our time spent ruminating on negative aspects of ourselves, improve our mood and cognitive function, and lower blood pressure and stress hormones.
There’s a lot of wisdom to return to nature as a source of peace and clarity when we’re experiencing the opposite during a troubled time. Hiking, biking, walking in a park — getting outside has the power to broaden our perspective, to remind us that our place in creation doesn’t depend on our grades or career path. The natural world operates by its own set of rules, and as much as we’d like to think that we can bend them to our will, it’s good to remember our place. This world has been here long before we arrived, and it will be here long after we’re gone. Our credit card debt is important to attend to, yes, but it’s not the summation of our existence.
Does any piece of this article ring true for you? There are so many ways to experience the wonders of green. You can try your hand at gardening. You can pack a picnic and lounge in your yard, or the local park, or the beach. You can walk through your neighborhood and take time to notice the flowers, the trees, the smells. You don’t need to go on an overnight backpacking trip to truly get lost in it all. The simple side-effect of slowing down and appreciating your surroundings can quiet the thoughts that cloud our minds, and this is when you find the space to truly see yourself.
Nature isn’t overstimulating like so many other parts of our lives. When you leave behind the doom-scrolling and neverending inbox, you find a pace of life that feels just right because it is as old as time. Nature gives us permission to simply exist, validation that this is enough.
Looking outside my window right now, I see about 30 different types of leaves, and just as many different shades of green. I notice the slightest rustle in the branches from a light breeze that’s bound to pick up later in the day. The air has the slightest scent of autumn, hinting at cooler weather to come. But for right now, it’s a warm fall morning in Santa Cruz, California on a bustling residential street.
Two years ago, if I’d have looked out this same window, I might have noticed pavement, parked cars, traffic cones … but now I’m seeing green in a new way, so it’s time for me to take a break from my computer and actually go and sit among the leaves outside of my window. I brew a fresh cup of coffee, put Lily on a leash, and step outside.