I loved Florence Williams’s book about how wilderness and nature are good for human physical and mental health. She travels the world talking to researchers who are trying to pinpoint, why time spent in a forest, desert, beach or even a park, lowers our blood pressure, helps us think, lifts our mood, alleviates symptoms of mental illness, etc.
The chapters are varied. I particularly like the idea of “forest bathing” shinrin yoku that is popular in Japan and Korea. It hearkens back to a time before penicillin and the cure for tuberculosis was going out to a spa or retreat and taking in the healthy air. Although now, scientists are looking for what triggers these outcomes. One researcher showed how spraying cypress tree oil on someone, immediately lowers the heart rate and blood pressure. What other oils do trees and plants give off that are beneficial to us?
Different cultures view the healthful impact of nature in different ways. The Finns, who live in the most heavily forested country in Europe (74%) really get into the woods, with the idea of metsan peitto, which means a deep surrender to the forest. I also like jokamiexhenoikeus which means that anyone can go on anyone else’s forested land to pick mushrooms, berries or to camp. Nature is that important to the collective good, that ownership of land cannot deny people having access to it. She came to the same conclusion I did about Singapore which has a lot of nature, but it is mostly artificially set there and controlled. With more people living in cities today on earth than ever before and the allure of games and screens, getting unplugged and out into nature is more important than ever.
Williams describes how time spent in nature can help everyone from former soldiers with PTSD to students with ADD/ADHD, etc. There is a chapter about walking in nature and how it helps creativity and thinking.
She ends the book with the idea of a nature pyramid, similar to the food pyramid. It is the recommended allowances of nature that humans need for optimal health.
daily – nearby nature – birds/trees/fountains in our neighborhoods – pets/houseplants, architecture that allows for natural light, fresh air, patches of blue sky
weekly – outings to parks and waterways where sounds of city recede; 1 hour per week, the larger and wilder the park the better
monthly – forests, state parks, etc.
yearly – multiple days in a wilderness; backcountry hiking and camping; kayaking, etc.