“I only went out for a walk, but decided to stay out till sundown, because going out, I found, was really going in.” — John Muir
These days we can go to bed at night knowing one reality, but then wake up in the morning to a very different world. Four disastrous hurricanes, two major earthquakes, California and Montana wildfires, the tragedies in Las Vegas and Texas, and more…every day it seems the news brings more worry and more concern. And then there is the hijinks of the new administration as it chips away at our environmental laws. Regulatory roll-backs at the Environmental Protection Agency, Greater sage-grouse plans upended at the Department of the Interior, National Monument “reviews” and Bears Ears and Grand Staircase unwound…when it comes to helping the environment, no past good deed seems to go unpunished. Our disbelief and discouragement are profound.
However, amid tragedy and dismay, something very good and powerful did happen this fall—the solar eclipse. Across America, millions of people of all races, creeds and political parties gathered along its path in small towns, rural outposts, western cities, wilderness camps and backyards to experience “totality.” Temperatures dropped. Birds stopped singing. Crickets chirped. Moths emerged. The heavens dimmed. For a moment in time, “all quarrels were forgotten,” and our differences were put behind us. We were truly “United by Nature and Guided by Science” (our slogan for last spring’s March for Science) as never before.
As author and conservationist Florence Williams describes in her book, The Nature Fix, this should come as no surprise. We know nature provides ecological services (such wetlands filtering our water and forests cleaning our air) and spiritual solace (the writings of Terry Tempest Williams and John Muir come to mind), but, as Florence Williams documents, it also provides physiological benefits which improve human health. A walk in the woods or “forest bathing,” as now practiced by the Japanese, lowers cortisol levels, mitigates anxiety and helps us focus. Time spent outdoors not only exposes us to great beauty, it is also good for us. This, in part, is what millions of Americans experienced during the solar eclipse.
So, this fall, as an antidote to the chaos of our times, I prescribe taking an extra walk or two. Hike that special trail. Explore your favorite canyon. Fish your favorite stream. Listen for the bird song. Pause and enjoy the sunshine while raking autumn leaves. Whatever dose of nature you need, make sure you take it. Like John Muir, you will discover “going out is really going in,” and like Wallace Stegner, you will find that when you are out in nature “you can look as deeply into yourself as anywhere I know.” We all need our nature fixes, so be sure to take your nature medicine. If you do, you will be better prepared for the new world that may await tomorrow morning.