Finding a Forest, Pondering a Pond

We were told a couple of years ago that sitting was the new smoking, but I haven’t seen that referenced much lately. Perhaps COVID and binge-watching make it too cruel to contemplate just now. There is news, though, for us to consider, something to get us out of those fitness counters and back into watches as is right and proper.

A recent “Wall Street Journal” article suggests that spending two hours in nature, on a regular basis, is the new 10,000 steps.

And they mean nature, not just outside, but surrounded by trees, and green—or brown as the season dictates— and water and twigs, and birdsong and breezes, and rocks, maybe, anywhere away from concrete and cars.

According to the report in WSJ’s Health and Wellness section, doctors and researchers are scrambling to address the physical and mental issues caused by COVID, and all the isolation, especially from the natural world. It seems there is abundant research supporting our need to be in nature, the health benefits of it, and COVID has cranked up the urgency to interpret the research and put it to use.

This large and growing body of research tells us we must return to nature, and sitting in our little yards won’t cut it. We must get away from the urban landscape, even pretty ones, to improve our mental health, our well-being, our blood pressure, our cognitive functioning, our creativity.

The Japanese call spending time in the woods “forest bathing.” I know how that sounds, but no, it isn’t that. They go to the woods, wander around, sit on a stump, saunter—saunter, you all—and come home with lower blood pressure, better heart rates and less fatigue and depression. Spending 300 minutes a week is about what it takes to get for yourself all sorts of healthy benefits. Just five hours a week.

I have a new friend from western New York, one who posts photos on Instagram of the natural places she walks and hikes on a regular basis. She posts images from the water’s edge of Quaker Pond, images taken in fall or the first days of winter already glazing the pond’s edge. I don’t know, just the name Quaker Pond makes me feel better, breathe more deeply.

Sometimes the pond is rimmed by golden reeds, sometimes the reeds are held captive in the glassy grip of ice, all of it lovely. She posts short videos of pines swaying in the high autumn wind, images of other trails covered in a carpet of fallen leaves. A photo, just as night falls, taken from the lip of Lake Ontario, with shadowy figures shrouded in mist gazing across the wide expanse searching for the Northern Lights. A life outside.

Here’s the deal. Since COVID, no—even before it—and since seeing and admiring these photos, I have had a longing, a primitive, true longing for woods, and walks in the green of summer or the russet of fall, the white—right this very day—of a walk in a winter snowfall.

But I don’t do it. I lament our lack of a Quaker Pond, but my pal, Alice, reminds me, and kind of huffy, too, we have equally beautiful woods here. We have trails in county parks, we have access to natural spaces. We just have to get off our duffs and go.

And she is right, of course. I have googled Quaker Pond, and my pal doesn’t just fall out her back door and into the woods. She makes for the wilds with intention. But neither must she drive for hours. And neither would we.

If Lake Ontario is right there, on the edge of town for my friend to explore and enjoy, the Ohio River is right here, on the edge of ours. We are ringed with little parks with hiking trails. We are half an hour, barely more, from two state parks, Audubon being a hidden jewel, ask anyone who has been there.

My writerly pals, with few exceptions, spend as much time outside and in the woods as possible. They grew up playing in creeks and running through woods, and they make a point of doing it still. One would tell you his time among the trees, on the lake, in a park is as critical to his work as the computer, the printer.

Will I move, and move in woods? Will I take myself to the wilds? Will I do it, just get up and do it? I really think I must.

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