Monday, June 23, 2008

Nature

I recently went backpacking in the Dolly Sods of West Virginia with my husband, sister and a few friends. We had a great time sleeping in our cars, waking up in the midst of a group of sinewy runners preparing for a 40 mile race, hiking through a mystical forest, getting rained on-hard!-setting up camp cold and wet, and hiking down in perfect sunlight to swim in Red Creek.

On the drive home I realized how great it was that we had been rained on so hard! It really took you out of being a tourist in nature, to being completely immersed. I talked with my Grandpa about it and he said, that in his estimation it really takes three days of being out to get you into synch with your surroundings. Thankfully the thunderstorm helped us get shaken out of our having a program and just traipsing through.

Interestingly on Sunday my pastor preached on Psalm 121, where the Psalmist says, "He will not let your feet be moved"--it struck me that that was exactly what was so refreshing about being out backpacking. Each step required an effort of concentration. We can so often go through the day doing ordinary things that we think do not require that much of our own attention, much less the Lord's! Hiking the steep and rocky mountains in West Virginia really illustrated how untrue that is! We need to rely on the Lord's help for each step that we take. It reminded me of the Puritans' method of "spiritualizing" daily activities. When I have time I plan to try and do this with hiking. Meanwhile, I have been told that J Greschem Machen has written a wonderful piece on "Mountains, and Why We Love Them".

By the way. On the way up the mountain we met a family of four backpacking. The eldest was nine and was carrying all of her own weight for the first time, the boy was 6, his first backpacking trip hiking the whole way. I can't wait until G is ready to come with us! Does anyone know of any good sites for tips on backpacking with kids? We've done camping, but it'd be fun to really get G out in the wilderness.

I recently read an article espousing the benefits of nature encounters, esp. for children. Here are the findings: The report's author, Dr William Bird, the health adviser to Natural England and the organiser of a conference on nature and health on Monday, believes children's long-term mental health is at risk. He has compiled evidence that people are healthier and better adjusted if they get out into the countryside, parks or gardens.

Stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces, he says. Even filling a home with flowers and plants can improve concentration and lower stress. "If children haven't had contact with nature, they never develop a relationship with natural environment and they are unable to use it to cope with stress," he said. "Studies have shown that people deprived of contact with nature were at greater risk of depression and anxiety. Children are getting less and less unsupervised time in the natural environment. "They need time playing in the countryside, in parks and in gardens where they can explore, dig up the ground and build dens."

The report, published by Natural England and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, also found that children's behaviour and school work improve if their playground has grassy areas, ponds and trees. It also found evidence that hospital patients need fewer painkillers after surgery if they have views of nature from their bed.

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