“When you realize the setback is the path, the game changes.” – Mastin Kipp
Trails have been my friend lately.
I wrote recently about my struggles with running. I had some good outings this week and some shaky ones, but I avoided tears in the middle of a run, so I count that as a win.
My problems, for some reason, do not extend to trail running.
When I run on trails, I am nimble, leaping over rocks and roots, barreling down the declines and powering up the inclines. At least in my mind.
When I run on trails, I don’t worry about time, distance, or stride. I don’t know what my heart rate is, or my cadence, or how much farther I have to go.
I just play and have fun.
Spring is a wonderful time to be in the woods.
I was going to write that it is the best time; you can see the forest come alive again. Then I thought about the adventures I have had there in other seasons, and I am not sure if I can say definitively that spring is the best. They are all outstanding.
Science is beginning to corroborate what we have known intuitively for a long time: being outside, surrounded by greenery just feels good.
Alpha waves, the type of brain waves we achieve when we meditate, pray, or do yoga, increase in natural surroundings, as opposed, for example, to walking down a busy street or sprinting around the track.
Studies show that crime and acts of aggression decrease in housing projects where more trees are planted.
It is easy to believe being in nature lowers heart rate, stress levels, and blood pressure, but did you know research shows it also improves short-term memory, reduces inflammation, and helps your ability to perform creative tasks?
We are hard-wired to spend large amounts of time outdoors.
So why don’t we do it?
Here in the United States, we theoretically glorify the wilderness but spend, on average, only 7% of our time outdoors.
For children, the data is even worse. Kids spend an average of just 34 minutes (a little over 2% of their time) outside each day. Compare that to an average of over 7 hours (for children ages 8 – 18) of screen time.
When asked to describe the reason for not spending more time outside in nature, one survey reported the following responses: work obligations, health concerns, lack of time, lack of interest, weather, bugs, and logistics. Really. Bugs.
Here is the thing: we don’t appreciate what we don’t see. Conservation efforts are a struggle in America because we don’t get outside enough to experience the benefits of being in nature.
If we want to save our forests, we need to get our kids outside to turn over rocks and uncover woodland salamanders. We need to permit them to scramble over boulders, climb on downed trees, and follow a spring to its hidden source.
We must take them to the nighttime woods after the first warm spring rain and allow the cacophony of spring peepers to surround them, let them thrill to the eerie sound of a screech owl in a hollow tree, and use a flashlight to find masses of frogs’ eggs in vernal pools.
We must allow, no, encourage them to get muddy, to paint each other’s faces with some good wet forest soil, to wear old sneakers as we explore a stream, to lie on our backs on the forest floor and look up through the green fabric of leaves to watch the birds or just see the clouds as they float by.
We must lead by example. We must get outside and play.
Architects who designed magnificent cathedrals understood well the feelings spectacular buildings were meant to evoke. A sense of awe makes us feel as though we are part of something bigger than ourselves. It makes us feel a sense of connectedness, of community.
Nature can make us feel the same sense of wonder, of empathy as those glorious monuments built for worship. But we must first go outdoors.
The Coronavirus crisis is forcing changes to our lifestyles. We have more time on our hands, more time with our families. Many of us are spending at least some of that time outside, hiking, walking, exploring, playing.
Maybe that is the current path.
Maybe that is the way more of us get to experience the fascination, the amazement, the open-mouthed astonishment nature can provide. The game has changed.
Let’s follow the new path. Let’s go into the woods.
You can find the places I link up here.