The Nature Fix

The idea of solvitur ambulando (in walking it will be solved) has been around since St. Augustine, but well before that Aristotle thought and taught while walking the open-air parapets of the Lyceum. It has long been believed that walking in restorative settings could lead not only to physical vigor but to mental clarity and even bursts of genius, inspiration (with its etymology in breathing) and overall sanity. As French academic Frederic Gros writes in A Philosophy of Walking, it’s simply “the best way to go more slowly than any other method that has ever been found.” Jefferson walked to clear his mind, while Thoreau and Nietzsche, like Aristotle, walked to think. “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking,” wrote Nietzsche in Twilight of the Idols. And Rousseau wrote in Confessions, “I can only meditate when I am walking. When I stop, I cease to think; my mind only works with my legs.”

. . . Here are some of the essential take-homes: we all need nearby nature: we benefit cognitively and psychologically from having trees, bodies of water, and green spaces just to look at; we should be smarter about landscaping our schools, hospitals, workplaces and neighborhoods so everyone gains. We need quick incursions to natural areas that engage our senses. Everyone needs access to clean, quiet and safe natural refuges in a city. Short exposures to nature can make us less aggressive, more creative, more civic minded and healthier overall. For warding off depression, lets go with the Finnish recommendation of five hours a month in nature, minimum. But as the poets, neuroscientists and river runners have shown us, we also at times need longer, deeper immersions into wild spaces to recover from severe distress, to imagine our futures and to be our best civilized selves.

Florence Williams–The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes us Happier, Healthier, and more Creative

Companionship with the Earth

I find myself walking softly on the rich undergrowth beneath the trees, not wanting to crack a twig, to crush or disturb anything in the least — for there is such a sense of stillness and peace that the wrong sort of movement, even one’s very presence, might be felt as an intrusion . . . The beauty of the forest is extraordinary — but “beauty” is too simple a word, for being here is not just an aesthetic experience, but one steeped with mystery, and awe.

The primeval, the sublime, are much better words here — for they indicate realms remote from the moral or the human, realms which force us to gaze into immense vistas of space and time, where the beginnings and originations of all things lie hidden. Now, . . .  it seemed as if my senses were actually enlarging, as if a new sense, a time sense, was opening within me, something which might allow me to appreciate millennia or eons as directly as I had experienced seconds or minutes.

The sense of deep time brings a deep peace with it, a detachment from the timescale, the urgencies, of daily life . . . wandering, above all . . . has given me an intimate feeling of the antiquity of the earth, and the slow, continuous processes by which different forms of life evolve and come into being. Standing here . . .  I feel part of a larger, calmer identity; I feel a profound sense of being at home, a sort of companionship with the earth.

Oliver Sacks–The Island of the Colorblind (1997)

The Spirit of Infancy

To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child. The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.

Ralph Waldo Emerson–Nature (Chapter 1, 1836)

Embers of Memory

The fading dawn colors revive momentarily, and the sky shines with lilac and daffodil, layering colors in clouds like quilts stacked on a bed. More birds chime into the morning air: a nuthatch’s nasal onk joins the crow’s croak and a black-throated green warbler’s murmur from the branches above the mandala. As the colors finally fade under the fierce gaze of their mother, the sun, a wood thrush caps the dawn chorus with his astounding song. The song seems to pierce through from another world, carrying with it clarity and ease, purifying me for a few moments with its grace. Then the song is gone, the veil closes, and I am left with embers of memory.

David George Haskell–The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature

Repeated Refrains

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. … There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.

Rachel Carson–Silent Spring

The Great Mystery

We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, and winding streams with tangled growth, as “wild.” Only to the white man was nature a “wilderness” and only to him was the land “infested” with “wild” animals and “savage” people. To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery. Not until the hairy man from the east came and with brutal frenzy heaped injustices upon us and the families we loved was it “wild” for us. When the very animals of the forest began fleeing from his approach, then it was that for us the “Wild West” began.

Luther Standing Bear

Nature be Your Teacher

The Tables Turned

Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
Or surely you’ll grow double:
Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble?
The sun above the mountain’s head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.
Books! ’tis a dull and endless strife:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it.
And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
He, too, is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.
She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by cheerfulness.
One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.
Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.
William Wordsworth