Go take a hike.

How much time do you spend aimlessly wandering around the internet each week? A few hours? More? Don’t get me wrong; I am very appreciative that you find this blog worth aimlessly wandering around to every so often, but I’m about to suggest that you back away from the blog and go do something that will make you feel a lot more clearheaded, connected, and lucid. After you finish reading this entry, of course!

It seems obvious to me that one element of our disconnected attitude about the natural world is, well, our disconnection from the natural world. We spend, on average, 90% of our time indoors, hermetically sealed away from the outside world, which we have also modified extensively. Even when we are in a fairly undisturbed space, like a hiking preserve or open space, we no longer can tell stinging nettle from blackberry vine, finch call from robin song. Maybe we don’t even really remember how to see, hear, or smell these thngs anymore.

I’m fortunate to have a large open space within a fifteen minute drive. I visit when I can, generally at least once a month, but sometimes up to four if I’m feeling especially needy and lost. Over the years I’ve become sensitive to its seasonal changes and rhythms. Every season is my favorite when it is just beginning, but spring is especially lovely. When I’m up there, the buzzing in my head quiets, my lungs open up like doors, and the stress of living in close proximity to other people flows straight out through my shoes. It’s therapy without the couch, meditation in movement.

Inspired in part by Bill Gerlach’s recent post, I invite you to reawaken your senses this spring by going out to your nearest open space and paying attention.

Close your eyes. What can you hear? What initially seems like perfect stillness swells into a subtle symphony of birdsong all around you. Then, perhaps, you’ll begin to detect the low hum of insects, and the soft rustle of wind through leaves, a distant stream. And underneath it all, the inexorable rhythms of your own breath and heartbeat.

Take a deep breath. What do you smell? Different parts of the trail smell strikingly different. Damp earth, blackberry vines, California bay, wet rocks — down by the stream. Cool, spicy shade and the crunch of seed pods underfoot — the old eucalyptus grove. Sunlight on sweet California sage, mustard flowers — out on the open slopes.

Open your eyes. Did you ever think green could come in so many different shades? Look closely, and you might see green tips on conifers, new leafbuds unfurling like flowers on a buckeye, dewdrops on a spiderweb, whorls in a common river stone, a vibrant blue butterfly out of the corner of your eye. Everything you see is alive, or part of a system that supports life. Feel awed, humbled, and amazed that we live on such a remarkable planet.

There are lots of things you can do to be green. But nothing gives me the sense of feeling connected to the natural world, of reminding myself that its preservation matters on a deep and personal level, like taking a walking through the woods.

Is experiencing the natural world an important part of your greenness? What do you do to reconnect?


13 responses to this post.

  1. Jennifer,

    I enjoyed this invitation immensely, especially the mini-instruction on how to use our senses. I live in a far more natural environment than most. I just need to step out my door to be there. But it is still easy to get stuck inside or not pay attention when I am outdoors. I have a daily routine of sitting on a lava rock, gazing into the ocean. At least once a day, I make sure I am paying attention to nature. I feel so whole, grounded, and centered when I do. The benefits are enormous. Thanks for reminding us!


    • Sandra, I’m flat out jealous. I know that’s not very enlightened of me; I know my current task is to be at peace with what I have, but sitting on a lava rock and looking into the sea? Oh, I wish! You’ll have to tell me the story of how you managed to end up there sometime. I’m visiting the big island in May for my sister’s wedding, and I’m looking forward to a whole new set of sounds, smells, plants, and rhythms, even though your last post has made me think hard about the tradeoff between new experiences through travel and bottom line sustainability.


  2. Jennifer,

    Thanks so much for finding inspiration in the post. I LOVE what you’ve captured here — and the message for your readers. Honestly, I have not felt much like being in front of a computer of late. Too much going on outside and with the family — gardens to prep, baseballs to throw and walks to be had.

    I feel you’ve articulated something that’s been brewing in my head for a while — the call to get out from the screen and head for the streets. To stop living through a flat monitor and go actually DO all that stuff you’re reading and wishing about. Maybe the screen is safer; maybe it’s not as judgmental; maybe it’s more controllable. I don’t know.

    Reconnect. Revive. Relate. Experience — in person. Do.

    Beautiful post. Thanks for driving it home.


    • Thanks, Bill! The weather has made a difference in my energy levels and motivation, too. Getting out there and doing stuff has always been my greatest challenge as an introvert and maybe just a little lazy armchair greenie. I feel like I can always come up with excuses not to go out, but once I do, it turns out to be a great decision. I’m slowly starting to identify the ways in which I convince myself not to do things and finding ways to push myself, little by little, beyond my comfort zone. (Which is, of course, the internet!)


  3. Hi Jennifer-thank you for this wonderful reminder that there is so much out there to experience. My dog will be getting a lot of walks this week in the woods behind my house. Sometimes I forget how important it is to experience and appreciate nature-thank you for inspiring me.


    • How wonderful that your open space is right beyond your house! Dogs are good about dragging you out for walks you didn’t even know you wanted to go on. (My temptation, on the other hand, is always to stay in with the cat.) Even though I realize that plenty of people who like to camp also drive gas guzzlers, I still like to think that appreciating the natural world is one step closer to acting to preserve it.


  4. Hi Jennifer … gosh, this post made me feel like I was back in California. When we lived there, we set aside Wednesdays for a hike. We’d often head for the back side of Yosemite and explore lovely trails. Now we live in the beautiful mountains of western NC and every day we take a walk along the river. We are so lucky to live close to forests and streams and … nature. It is amazing what it does for one’s mind and health. For me, it’s centering and brings me back to where I know I belong. Thank you for such a lovely post … and the lovely memories of California hikes.


    • I’ve never been to North Carolina, but I imagine the woods are beautiful, especially in the spring and fall. I would love to live more rurally some day. I’m a California native, so it didn’t really strike me until I went to England that our seasons and vegetation are very distinctive. Although I am in love with our current lush green grass and abundant wildflowers, come summer and I will find something new to appreciate in the sweet smell of drying hay and the mosaic patterns of cracked earth.


  5. This post and the comments above make me sad that I’m so far from wilderness. There are plenty of parks near me, but they’re manicured. I’m sorry, grassy spaces with a few trees here and there does not constitute a natural area!!

    However, whenever I get the chance to walk along quiet streets far from traffic, I make a concerted effort to look, listen, and smell. Even in an urban setting, there are many creatures around, and taking the time to pay attention the wildlife in the city helps to tide me over when it’s been a while since I’ve escaped the sprawl to find truly natural areas.

    Thanks for reminding me to reconnect.


    • I live in a suburb, so I completely understand. Even though the open space has been within a few miles of me my whole life, I found it only in high school, when a friend took me to it. I couldn’t believe it had been there all this time. Nature is still everywhere in the city, in leaf veins and worms and fragile white mushrooms that pop up after the rain. It’s easy to miss the little things, but they’re everywhere if we pay attention.


  6. Experiencing the natural world IS part of my greenness, in that I have a much deeper appreciation for all the small things now. I notice more. I stop, I listen. We have long winters here and we are all so cooped up and dying for spring so that we can get out there, feel the sun upon our faces! But I can still appreciate the song of a bird, the little jack rabbit that visits our yard, the way the snow sparkles at night… Our need to be with nature really is hardwired into us, even though most of us don’t stop long enough to realize it. I am fortunate that my parents have a cabin on a lake, and the area is surrounded by forests – I grew up there in summers and plan to give the same experience to my kids.


  7. It must be really hard to still be in winter when so many people are blithely blathering on about how wonderful spring is (sorry!). I grew up with a small suburban backyard, but even that seemed large to a child. I probably scrutinized every leaf, seed, and flower that grew in my mother’s yard, and some of that same attention to nature has stayed with me long after childhood.


  8. Posted by Kris on 03/28/2011 at 14:40

    I’m lucky and live by a state park that I used to visit all the time growing up…and still do as an adult. I visit the park almost every weekend because it’s my #1 place to run. I love running the trails there. Nothing like feeling one with nature to go out and run in it, Where you have to be aware of your surroundings and alert. It’s so peaceful. I can’t wait to have a kid and take them to the park on weekends, hike to the cliffs and watch the trains go through, play in the creek in the summer, have bbq’s in the Spring and Fall.


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