The most soothing of childhood stories my mother shares happened when I was a three-month-old on a camping trip. I’d been set on the picnic table in my baby lounger and was captivated by and cooing to the swaying treetops that towered above me.
To this day, I feel a physiological unwinding in the presence of a stand of trees. My inspiration for this column came during a run with my dog. Hot and lacking motivation, I arrived along a cooling grove of aspen trees cradled in the deep green leaves and startling pink, perfumed blossoms of wild rose bushes. I felt replenished and able to carry on running.
I’m not the only one who experiences benefits from time in nature. A nine-year study for the U.S. Forest Service determined contact with nature can aid recovery from mental fatigue, and restore attention span and the brain’s ability to process information. Participants of the study reported a sense of peace and the ability to think clearly. Environmental psychologists, Rachel and Stephan Kaplan, suggest that nature simultaneously calms and focuses the mind.
Schoolyard greening, according to one Canadian study, improves students’ academic performance, and reduces discipline problems and absenteeism. At-risk students who have time in nature experience increased test scores, cooperation, self-esteem, problem solving skills and conflict resolution.
Using all our senses at once in a natural setting could be what provides the optimum state for learning and feeling present. Others suggest we have more than the traditional five senses which become activated in nature.
Biophilia is the term which expresses the inborn impulse or longing to connect with other forms of life. Humans are drawn to nature. Just seeing it through a window brings peace. The outcry in our community last spring when the mother moose was shot also speaks to this. We remain connected to other living creatures, plant or animal, despite our concrete-laden environments.
Avatar, the 2010 blockbuster, animates this innate urge to be connected to the natural world. The Na’vi literally plugged in to their fellow creatures enabling their connection to an intrinsic deity present in all living things. She was their source, balancing their ecosystem and connecting them to their ancestors, a fantastical version of Mother Nature.
In permaculture design, a property has five zones. Zone one is closest to the house and plantings could be herbs that one might harvest daily. The zones move further from the house as the plantings are less demanding to maintain and harvested less frequently. Zone five, my favourite, is left to nature. This is for observation and inspiration. Nature has much to teach us.
St Albert is wise to care for its river valley, expand its tree canopy to 20 per cent, re-nature park areas, and conserve as much green space in and around as possible.
Jill Cunningham grew up in St. Albert, has a Bachelor of Education from University of Alberta and is passionate about nature, the environment, and building community.