AlDEN MCRAE – As we move into the uncertain age of climate change, it’s a natural reaction to feel a certain amount of guilt from our human role in this new reality. It’s important not to turn away from nature, though. Now, more than ever, is the time to strengthen our relationships to the natural world. I believe that living close to nature raises our physical and especially our mental wellbeing. Along the way, we become more resilient for challenges that lie ahead.
There are countless health benefits to being in nature, with more and more research investigating the specific reactions that occur between humans and the environment. One recent study concluded that contact with nature can reduce “obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression, and anxiety.” Indigenous people hold deep knowledge that teaches about humans’ relationship to the earth.
I’ll share some of my own everyday experiences to seeking out time and space in nature.
As a young adult straight out of university, I was undecided on my life’s direction. The only thing I knew for certain was that I wanted to grow my connection to nature and to become more self-reliant. Rather than going on to pursue a Master’s degree, securing full time employment, buying a new car or my first house, I chose to be in nature: travelling, farming, and learning how to live off grid.
While I deliberated on my future, my hands were busy learning to work with the land. I was going back to the basics, sensing how the essential life systems work. Nature has been my guide.
Choosing this path has become both a journey and a full lifestyle. The physicality of planting trees, growing gardens, harvesting wood, and building shelters keeps you fit and focused. It also gives you purpose; the ability to fulfil your basic needs, and those of others, is deeply gratifying and satisfying.
Experiencing the returning cycles of the seasons, witnessing how the trees, animals, and the soil overcome adversity teaches you a great deal about patience, toughness, and the driving instinct to survive.
Nature also gives you time for stillness and quiet. If you allow yourself the time in a forest for your heartbeat to slow down, your breath to deepen, then your mind will relax.
We all have places we gravitate to: a certain bend in a river, a welcoming log, a sanctuary in the trees. Going to that place often is a great habit to have; my favourite places ground me and I measure my growth against the leaves or the fluctuating water level.
I find endless joy from being out on the land; even places I have visited countless times are thrilling with every fresh encounter. My mind and body come alive through hiking, canoeing, photographing, giving way to a more intimate connection. Thankfully, the Peterborough area is full of astonishingly beautiful nature areas, and you needn’t leave the city to find pockets of natural wonder.
This richness of these experiences gives me a deep sense of wellbeing; I feel happiest living simply, light on my feet, and with a clear mind.
Other times, when I find myself in mental distress, I go to one of my favourite places to find my bearing again. Even if I can’t physically go to that place in the moment, I envision being there and I meditate. Through this I’ve begun to learn new approaches to making decisions and seeking success. Similarly, doctors in Shetland, Scotland have begun prescribing time in nature to patients to increase their mental and physical health.
It’s also wonderful that forest schools and nature education programs are spreading across Canada, so that young people will learn early on that they can always go to nature to feel empowered, safe and balanced.
The benefits to being in nature extend beyond our own wellbeing. By spending time on the land and in our own backyards, we come to have knowledge, awareness and the ability to take the pulse of nature’s health. We gain tools to prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
1. “Nature Contact and Human Health: A Research Agenda,” Environmental Health Perspectives, 2017.
2. “Doctors in Scotland can now prescribe nature,” World Economic Forum, 2018.
Aiden McRae is a farmer-gardener and creator of Earthcall environmental blog: https://www.earthcall.ca.