5 Reasons Your Next Trip Should Involve Nature
A simple stroll through the woods can have a powerful effect, centering us and engaging parts of ourselves that languish back in the human-dominated workaday world.
Very few people are unmoved by an encounter with the natural world. A look of wonder breaks out in the most jaded types at the sight of a whitewater gorge, a sauntering bull moose, a mighty thunderhead. Kids bored and cranky indoors can—even in our age of omnipresent screens and online distractions—happily occupy themselves for hours along a streambank.
Nonetheless, we often fail to make time to engage with the wild. We're often tangled up in the demands, responsibilities, and diversions of the every day world. But regular trips away from that world and into natural spaces—even those pocketsize ones in city refuges—can be not only calming and pleasurable but also deeply energizing. Here are five reasons why.
1. Connections in the deepest sense
There’s a notion out there called biophilia hypothesis. Put forth back in the 1980s by the great naturalist E.O. Wilson, biophilia hypothesis is the notion that human beings are intrinsically drawn to elements of the natural world that shaped us as a species.
As another pioneer of the idea, Stephen Kellert, put it: “The biophilia hypothesis proclaims a human dependence on nature that extends far beyond the simple issues of material and physical sustenance to encompass as well the human craving for aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual meaning and satisfaction.”
A simple example of biophilia? Our attraction to parks, golf courses, and other greenspaces: the deep appeal of grassy lawns, scattered trees, glinting lakes. The seashore’s another one: We can all relate to the almost unexplainable joy we feel kicking back in view of the surf, toes in the sand and drowsing off to a soundtrack of waves.
In both cases, proponents of the biophilia hypothesis might say, we’re feeling drawn to resource-rich landscapes that have nurtured human beings for hundreds of thousands of years.
Some studies have suggested spending time in natural landscapes can boost our creativity, lessen stress, and foster a firmer sense of self. This is perhaps due to the inherent connection we feel with the physical environment and our fellow organisms. A simple stroll through the woods can have a powerful effect. It can center us and engage parts of ourselves that languish in the business of everyday life.
2. The space to think
Hey, cities can be wonderful places: stimulating, social, infectiously uptempo. But the clamor and breakneck pace of urban environments sometimes makes it hard to focus, especially if you’ve been immersed in them too long.
There’s a lot going on in the natural world too. But the overall vibe in most wild places is slower and quieter. All this gives you more space to think, reflect, and (crucially) to turn off that self-critical, hyper-analytical brain of yours and bliss out to the wild. Whether you’re working on a specific project and seeking the headspace to brainstorm, or you’re just feeling harried and overstressed, immersion in nature can be rejuvenating like nothing else.
3. Something bigger
Inevitably most of us will spend our lives in a human-centric realm. This isn't at all surprising, given we’re a highly social, cooperative, and altruistic species. Those are all good things, mind you.
But the universe goes beyond the human-centric realm. Despite our haughtiness and technological wizardry, humankind is still very much dependent on the rest of the natural world. We survive within and because of the biosphere, the global ecosystem.
Head for the backcountry (or even a nearby county park), and you can see the huge and interconnected processes of the earth. You'll find rivers gnawing down mountains and draining to the world ocean, trees sucking up carbon dioxide and pumping out oxygen, animals doing their everyday feats of survival in order to pass on genes and ensure their kind’s perpetuation.
Taking the time to observe those processes and to wander the wild stages where they take place can make you feel connected to something much bigger than workplace rivalries or political craziness—and that’s immeasurably valuable.
4. Natural cycles as a source of strength
The science of phenology tracks the seasonal changes in plant and animal populations: the migration of birds or butterflies, the timing of greenup and flowering, the courtship and reproduction of bears and lizards and everything in between.
Those are only some of the most visible natural cycles, which also encompass the journey of water through its many different realms (including our bodies), the birth and decay and rebirth of rocks, and—widening the viewfinder even more—the patterns of our solar system and beyond.
As organisms in the biosphere ourselves, we have our own natural cycles. However, our sense of them is easily drowned out by noisier inputs. From personal tragedies to political upheaval, we often feel like we’re spiraling out of control. Many of us walk around feeling like the rug could be pulled out from under our feet at any moment.
Nature demonstrates that spring follows winter and winter follows fall, that life springs from death. Ecological and geological cycles, in their endless and beautiful repetition, can become something firm to hold onto when we feel unmoored and helpless.
5. The Joy of Surprise
Our lives easily become predictable, anchored by domestic and work routines. These routines play out pretty much the same way day by day, week by week. Again, this isn’t all a bad thing by any means. We need routine.
But it’s good to shake things up every once in awhile, and Mother Nature’s very good at that. She’s full of surprises. She'll bring abrupt shifts in weather or the appearance of a plant or animal you’ve never seen before. She'll show you a big river that the map says shouldn’t be there, or a creature doing something unexpected.
Such surprises stimulate our brain and reawaken our sense of adventure. We come back feeling more creative, more enlivened. This reminds us that the world, far from being humdrum and boring, is actually feisty and full of potential.
Nature can open your mind, in other words.