A pandemic causes all of us to look at many aspects of our lives and this COVID-19 is certainly not an exception. All of us have had our lives changed in numerous ways. As we practice social distancing and isolation from family and friends, many of us are drawn to nature to help us cope and in some cases heal. This is evidenced by the parking lots at trail heads throughout the area on every nice and sometimes not so nice day. I recently drove through PA State Forest Land in Pike County and each trail head had at least one and in many cases multiple vehicles parked there. It was a welcome sight but one in which I was not accustomed to. Does it really take a pandemic for us to realize the healing powers of nature? I hope not; people have been using the healing powers of nature as a cure for many things throughout time.
What does nature have that drugs and shots and vaccines don’t? Balance and harmony. Walk down a forested trail and you are treated to a cornucopia of sounds, smells and sights, that can overload your senses as well as ease your mind. Who cannot appreciate the call of a chickadee, the sight of a spring wildflower, or even the smell of a rotting log? There are so many things present as we walk along allowing us to take our minds off of the world around us if we chose. The walk doesn’t have to be far; in fact it doesn’t have to be a walk at all. Sit on a bench surrounded by nature or at an overlook where you can take in a broad field of view and nature’s natural healing powers will do their thing. It won’t cost you anything but time, which is something we all have a little more of in today’s world.
Nature has been healing people for thousands of years since the first indigenous people walked these lands. Don’t get me wrong; nature does go through changes some of them natural and some more recently man-made. But through it all, the natural world has maintained its balance and therefore its mind blowing calmness that cures all our ills. You may have heard of “Forest Bathing”, it’s a new term for the old principle of using nature to heal us. It can be done alone, with someone else, family, friends whomever, and there is no set time or place for benefiting from its powers. Sometimes five minutes is all anyone needs to feel the effects while at other times, several hours can be enjoyed in its surroundings. And the best thing about it is that it is guaranteed to work every time. That’s right, every time! It can be the same location each time or you can explore the many different “nature drug stores” throughout our area and beyond. Another good thing about it is it doesn’t require any special or expensive equipment. Proper clothing for the weather and comfortable shoes is all you really need. Don’t burden yourself with today’s technology, and fancy equipment for hiking, it’s not necessary; in fact it works better if you leave your phone turned off.
If you find a spot near water the benefits will be even more pronounced. There is something about the sound of moving water from either a current or the waves slapping against the shoreline that enhances the healing properties of nature. That is where I like to go to be healed, near water. I am very fortunate there is a beautiful, clear stream running near my house. It is fascinating to watch the water moving over rocks and gurgling past the shore. If I am lucky I will see a few of the residents that inhabit the area. Songbirds in the trees, amphibians along the water’s edge, fish swimming by, insects hatching over the water and on occasion a Bald Eagle, river otter, or maybe just a squirrel. They all play a role in the healing process. Nature and all its creatures require nothing from you except your presence to be healed. There are not many things in this world we can say that about.
As I have gotten a little older, my time in nature has not decreased but has taken on a slower pace. It has actually allowed me to reap more of the benefits of the process. By taking things a little slower while out in the natural world the calming effect of nature has been more pronounced. I appreciate its beauty as well as its simplicity. Everything has a place and everything has a purpose. Its sounds and smells and sensory smorgasbord are a perfect elixir for a hurried and sometime chaotic world. It asks nothing but our time and gives so much in return.
When the weather warms in a few weeks I will again get to immerse myself into my favorite healing ritual with nature, “creek sitting”. This is something I stumbled upon a few years ago as I started to slow my pace down and it is something that works wonders for everything that might ail me. All you need is a folding chair, and a stream with moving water preferably not over a foot deep. Plop the chair down in the middle of the creek facing upstream and then have a seat. Make sure you take off your shoes so you can feel the water between your toes. Put your arms out to the side and dip your hands and fingers in the water and just watch and feel the stream flow by. There is no set amount of time you need to do this you will know when it is working and you will know when you are “healed”.
In today’s world, which is very different than it was even 3 months ago, we need to remember what nature can do for us and how it can be an escape from the hectic world around us. We must also remember that everyone needs this opportunity so we must protect open spaces and public access. We know we will get through this current pandemic eventually and being able to go out in nature will certainly help the process. But please remember we should not go back to where it was before and only use nature in a time of crisis. It is always there patiently waiting to soothe our minds and feed our souls. I encourage you to get outside and feel the power of our natural world and when it gets a little warmer maybe I will see you “creek sitting” along the way.