Over the past couple of years, a LOT of people have discovered that spending time in nature makes a positive difference to their physical health and mental well-being. Our Chief Medical Officers of Health have consistently advised that being physically active in nature can help fight depression and anxiety. And it doesn’t seem to matter whether that nature activity takes place in the mountains, a forest, or at a neighbourhood park.
I ran a series of Nearby Nature articles back in 2015. My goal at the time was to share research findings and other resources to help others cultivate a (nearby) nature habit. But I soon realized there was limited research into the benefits of spending time in nearby nature. So after just a few months, I quietly discontinued the series.
Turns out I was a few years premature. Today, mainstream media articles extoll the benefits of spending time in nature. Hashtags like #playoutside, #optoutside, #greentimenotscreentime, #VitaminN and #1000hoursoutside have growing numbers of avid followers. There are podcasts, scientific journal articles, books, courses and blogs that delve into the positives that come from feeling connected to nature. So it seems like a good time to re-launch a series of monthly Nearby Nature Project articles.
What to Expect
- A focus on nearby nature, including planter pots, gardens, yards, neighbourhood and nearby parks and trails.
- A link to an interesting article or research study, helpful YouTube, great podcast, nature-related app, book, course or other learning materials.
- A nearby nature subject that caught my attention over the past month.
Introduction to Health and Wellness Benefits of Being Outside
Getting outside for just 20 minutes 3 times/week can improve your well-being. Puttering in the yard, tending outdoor planter pots, walking along a tree-lined street or spending time in a nearby park sparks all kinds of health and wellness benefits. And fostering a sense of nature connectedness seems to contribute to happiness even when you’re not physically immersed in nature.
Which benefit is most valuable to you?
1) Lowers your blood pressure and reduces stress;
2) Improves mood;
3) Improves focus;
4) Helps you heal quicker;
5) Supports aging gracefully.
For me, the answer is all of the above!
Nearby Nature Project this Month
It’s winter where I live, and much of the past month has been very cold. For about two weeks straight, daytime high temperatures were colder than -30C (-22F). But we bundled up and head out for a dose of #VitaminN(ature) most of those days. The conditions created some interesting ice formations and snow conditions that piqued my curiousity about water in all its various states.
Because it was so cold, for so long, we saw the Bow River almost completely freeze up between Canmore and Calgary. And it seems that over Christmas week, some areas of the River overflowed the banks, then froze, then retreated. A wide range of ice formations caught our attention.
The plates of ice hanging from low spruce branches really got me wondering what hydrologic conditions led to its formation. So I spent some time doing image searches and learned the term hummocked ice.
We also saw an ice jam on the Kananaskis River.
And one other fairly rare phenomenon along the Bow River: river steam!
You may not even have to leave home to spot icicles. They form on eavestroughs, roof edges, deck railings and even the exhaust vent for the furnace! That last one is a safety hazard, so check the exhaust outlets every now and then and knock off any ice build-up (check your dryer vent outlet, too).
This month I noticed that icicles formed by melt/re-freeze have ribs/rings on them that are consistently about 1 cm apart. Physics! (I only skimmed the article, so can’t offer the TLDR summary here).
Snow Both Hides and Reveals
Walking the Highline Trail in Canmore after fresh snow and wind combined to cover the windward side of tree trunks in white, I got thinking about how snow both hides and reveals. A snow-coating plastered to the trees brings a lightness to the woods…more so than on a bright summer day.
Sometimes, the way snow blankets things draws attention to details that are otherwise easily missed. For example, I never before noticed how this one tree curls around and hugs its fallen neighbour.
Patterns and Tracks
Another thing I love about fresh snow is spotting patterns and tracks: animal tracks or human tracks, they’re all equally fascinating…trying to identify the animals that passed by, and when they did, or tracking Mr. GeoK who may have walked a trail before me. It gets me thinking about how beings can travel the same path and never meet, because they travel at different times.
Having recently completed Avalance Canada’s online Avy Savvy course, I’ve started noticing wind patterns in the snow…where wind loading might have occurred, or where it’s merely decorative.
Frost, Hoar Frost, Frost Flowers and Rime
This is an area where I still have a lot to learn. Not only am I not (yet) clear on the differences between hoar frost and rime, I’d like to know more about the conditions that lead to these beautiful patterns, feathers, spikes and coatings.
Snowmojis and Snow Art
One sure thing about creating some kind of snow art is that it’s temporary! So it doesn’t matter if your snow angel has one wing bigger than the other, if your snow face stuck to a tree trunk has a lopsided smile, if your snowperson has a bigger head than torso or your snowmoji smiley face is not round…get busy creating! Whatever you make will spark joy – in you and anyone who sees what you’ve made. It’s the very best kind of #nearbynature experience!
Time to hit “publish” and head outside for today’s dose of #VitaminN.
Before you head outdoors, I invite you leave a comment describing one of your recent #nearbynature moments, a way you plan to enjoy #nearbynature over the coming month, your favourite resource to support your #playoutside habit and/or any feedback on topics you’d like to see covered in an upcoming edition of Nearby Nature Project. Thanks!
Over the next month, I’ll be working my way through a free, online course from the University of Derby –Nature Connectedness: For a new relationship with nature. I’ll share key points and an overall review next month. The instructor is Professor Miles Richardson, and I’ve been following his work since 2015. He shares his research findings through his @findingnature account on Twitter if you want to follow along.