I’ve always felt safer in nature. Even though animals may attack or I might sprain my ankle trekking up a 14 footer, or possibly yet, I’ll slip through a crack in the frozen ice near my friends’ farmhouse in the middle of Nebraska, soaking my Pokémon cards and dampening my middle school pride. There are many risks to being an “explorer” of nature, but the rewards far outweigh the cost of soaked gloves or cold feet.
Lately, nature and the environment have been the center of attacks under the new ruler of the free world. Those who protect these lands have been told to keep quiet; to silent their researched pleas to be environmentally conscious and to stick up for those sticks and stones that can’t beg people to listen. All of these ridiculous rants have caused me to take a step back and morph into someone who fights for what I love; someone who fights to protect the woods, the wilderness, and the fields of infinite possibilities.
One such organization being silenced, The National Park Service, employs nearly 22,000 people each year. In 2015, over 300 million families, backpackers, climbers, hikers, and adventurers from all walks of life visited the 417 areas in the National Park system. While those numbers are astounding, it comes down to more than just knowing the statistics when it comes to joining nature enthusiasts in their efforts to protect the great outdoors.
Opting outside, as REI famously tagged, lowers stress levels, according to a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As someone who stresses over event the smallest of mundane details associated with living in today’s society, the outdoors and the ability to seek refuge in nature has been a lifesaver. Work and deadlines may pile up, but from the moment I step outside, stretching my limbs and disappearing into the woods, my heart beats slower, my mind unwinds, and suddenly I’m less aware of the to-do lists and the emails cluttering my inbox.
Becoming "one with nature" also boosts your mood; the intake of fresh air helping to regulate your levels of serotonin which in turn promotes a feeling of better well-being. We experience this when we notice a shift in our mood when outdoors; we have a bad day, but the moment we lace up our trail shoes, escape into the wilderness, and breath in the fresh air of nature, we often feel happier, more relieved.
That’s not just the light of the sun playing tricks with your soul; it’s that exercise-induced neurotransmitter endorphin giving you a “runner's high” which causes you to feel as though you're standing on top of the world, if only for a fleeting moment. Or better yet, the longer you stay outside: indefinitely.
During a recent study conducted by the University of Derby and The Wildlife Trusts in the UK, this same notion was put to the test. For 30 days, participants were asked to do something “wild.” For wild, with wild, in wild; any of these instances were acceptable. The results of being “wild” were incredible; showing significant increases in people’s health, happiness and overall connection to nature, even after the 30 days of being “wild” was drawn to conclusion. Lucy McRobert, Manager for The Wildlife Trusts, was blown away by the results. She was quoted as saying, “Intuitively, we knew that nature was good for us as humans, but the results were beyond brilliant.”
The results were magical. They were surreal. They were nature.
While there are many health benefits attributed to time spent in nature, it’s not simply the benefits that have made me so passionate about protecting the outdoors. It’s the feeling of finding yourself, centering yourself to the real you that occurs when you’re in nature, just you and the wilderness. Why would we want to let that freedom of nature be sold, abused, or silenced? The outdoors cannot speak for themselves, but that doesn’t mean you have to remain speechless for them.
Today, and for the foreseeable future, we must fight, we must love, and we must protect the wilderness that provides us vast opportunities for exploration and happiness.
Echoing the words of John Burroughs, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more.”
Want to fight the nature fight? Get involved by calling your local Representatives or donating to environmental agencies; and always remembering to pack out what you packed in.