Nature is a Salve

I had just dropped off a close friend at the airport. As we hugged goodbye, I felt so good: happy, full, a little tired.

But as I drove home, my feelings changed. I felt sad. Lonely. Existential. What is the meaning of life, at the end of the day? Like, really? If you have enough food and shelter and you are safe, then why bother doing anything?

I knew that it was an overreaction (I’m not the best at transitions), but I also couldn’t stop it.

When I got home, I tearfully told my boyfriend about my many, many feelings. After listening very carefully, he said the most amazing thing:

“Let’s go to the backyard. Nature is a salve.”

To which I thought: Uh maybe. But I think it’s going to take more than that. Do you get how sad I am?

But also I had nothing to lose, so I followed him past our kitchen table and into the back yard.

I walked barefoot on our grass.
I noticed some daffodils.
I felt better.

And it happened way, way, faster than I thought possible, in only a minute, maybe two. I didn’t even need to “fix” anything, or decide on the meaning of my life, or make a pro-con list.

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Truthfully, I hesitated to write this piece. Isn’t it the most trite thing in the world to say that nature makes us feel better?

Yet, even though I am a nature-lover (I walk outside every day. I love to sit in an Adirondack chair and look at trees or fields on vacations.), I hadn’t truly understood this.

In the past, I had to have a nature “experience” to feel better: a 45-minute walk, an hour to sit in a chair on the beach.

I’d never realized that when I was frazzled and distracted and all I wanted to do was procrastinate from every single thing on my to-do list, I could feel my feet on the grass for a few moments and it would be better.

I’d never realized that when I was sad, I could let nature be there, without doing anything myself. I could just stand in my ordinary, nothing-special-and-could-actually-probably-use-some-yard-work backyard.

I didn’t have to walk or move or find the perfect location or spend two hours luxuriating in the sun.

I just had to stand near the grass, the trees. Near the bunch of daffodils that have burst out of the ground (much to my surprise). And let nature pour cool water on my troubled heart.

I’d never thought of nature as a salve.

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I know I’m not the only one. Cup of Jo had the most lovely piece about the power of nature recently:

For children, being indoors is both over-stimulating and boring at the same time. 

Throughout history, “children spent most of every day frolicking outside,” wrote Harvey Karp, M.D., in his brilliant book The Happiest Toddler on the Block. “Our homes are boring because they replace the exciting sensations of nature (the feeling of the wind on their skin, the brilliant sun, the soft grass, etc.) with an immense stillness (flat walls, flat floors, no wind).” Yet at the same time, being indoors is over-stimulating: “It bombards them with jolting experiences that kids in the past never had to deal with: crazy cartoons, slick videos, clanging computer games, noisy toys and bright colors everywhere… which can make many little children feel stressed.”

Wow. I know that this is technically about children, but doesn’t this also apply to adults?

How often are we overstimulated by the clicking from photo to photo, website to website, but also under-stimulated by being indoors for so long?

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So that’s my challenge to you this week. When you need it, let nature be your salve. Just for a moment, in a small way. Walk outside and feel real air. Be stimulated just the right amount.

You don’t need to go run a marathon on the beach or take an Instagram-worthy hike. Try being out there for a few moments, and let nature do its thing.

Then I’d love to hear how it goes. Let me know in the comments where you were and how you felt.