My family moved from Saugus, MA, to the city of Lynn when I was nine-years-old. Not only was our new home larger, but more importantly, it abutted Lynn Woods Reservation. My sister, brother, and I had a 2,200-acre municipal forest park as our backyard. We spent hours walking the nature trails and exploring. We often visited the wolf pits, but not for any particular reason. Maybe just the mystery of them.
I never grew tired of the woods and often went for long walks, especially when upset. They had such a calming effect–the power of nature. Forty-plus years later, I know how much I took that natural environment for granted.
How many of us take all of nature for granted? The trees, chirping birds, blue sky, ponds, colorful sunsets, dew on the grass, and even pretty weeds. It surrounds us every day, but how much do we think about it? I never had in any abstract way. I’d see it all, take pleasure in its beauty, be happy the sun was shining, but never give much thought about its profound effect on my sense of well-being—not since being a teenager.
Life is Better in the Woods
Each time Richard and I visited our seasonal campsite, which is nestled in a wooded area, a feeling of calmness and relaxation always accompanied the visit. At first, I didn’t link the natural environment to these feelings. Instead, I associated them with being away from our everyday surroundings. No housecleaning or other regular chores needed to get done. But when we became full-time RVers, the feelings of well-being remained despite the RV now being our everyday surroundings–with the associated household tasks.
I finally realized that the good feelings were most likely because of the creek, trees, birds, and dragonflies. It brought back memories of days wandering Lynn Woods. Maybe the idea of nature as a mood enhancer was crazy, I thought. So I started googling.
The Power of Nature
Studies show that being in a natural environment reduces fear, anger, and stress. And it not only promotes feelings of well being but also has positive physical effects. When folks spend time with Mother Nature, there is a reduction in blood pressure, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. I wasn’t crazy. Some research even shows that kids with ADHD have milder symptoms if they regularly play in parks than those who spend more time indoors.
Post-surgery hospital patients that have a window with a view of trees versus a brick wall had a more comfortable recovery. They were in the hospital for a shorter length of time, required less pain medication, and nursing notes indicated that the patients with a view of nature seemed in better spirits.
The power of nature is also present in homes and offices when you make plants part of the environment. I am glad I squeezed my houseplants into our home when becoming full-time RVers. There is a variety of benefits, some of which are:
- The foliage is a natural filtration system, helping with allergies
- Houseplants add moisture to the air, which is better for your skin
- Some give off oxygen at night, which may help you sleep more soundly
Thoreau and Emerson
There was a time in my life when I had a vast number of books. I started the collection in my teens, and it kept growing, being moved from home to home. I added two new ones in 2004: The Portable Thoreau and The Portable Emerson, both edited by Carl Bode. I’d often read quotes or snippets from their writings, which I found truthful and thought-provoking. I was determined to read them both.
After downsizing multiple times, all my books now fit into a small bookcase-end-table in the RV, and two small boxes in storage. But after sixteen years, I still have the two I bought in 2004. They’ve turned yellow, and until very recently, the spines of the books were uncreased.
As I wait for birds to appear at our feeders, I have been reading The Portable Thoreau. The way he writes about his observations of the natural world is extraordinary. Now, as I sit outside—doing nothing– I try to see the surroundings of the RV as he might have seen them. I don’t have the words, but I do notice much more of the details than I would have in the past.
While researching the effects of nature on people’s sense of well-being, many articles quote from the writings of Thoreau and Emerson. If I’d read those two books sooner, I might have realized earlier in life that we needed to get ourselves into the woods.
Continuing to Learn
As a member of AARP, I know the importance of lifelong learning. I’ve read that a stimulated mind promotes a healthy brain. Since moving to the bank of Muddy Creek, my curiosity about birds, insects, and plant life has grown significantly. And I’ve begun giving myself extra time to get to appointments to be able to stop and snap a picture of plants or animals that catch my attention. Wildflowers—usually pretty weeds—and dragonflies are my latest obsession.
The power of nature to affect our mental and physical health is truly amazing. Since moving to our RV on the banks of Muddy Creek, I feel it’s possible that some of the best years are yet to come–if only we can get done with the pandemic.