Posted on January 16, 2009 @ 08:00:00 AM by Paul Meagher
In Bernd Heinrich's 2007 book, The Snoring Bird, he makes the claim that "our well-being is tied not so much to the structure of our society and the politics that determine it, as to our ability to maintain contact with nature, to feel that we are part of the natural order and that we are capable of making a living within it" (p. 25). We might constrast this statement with another claim that I heard this week from a heating specialist who said that we spend 90% of our time indoors. This claim, which really should be verified, may have only applied to Canada and not the United States which as a whole has milder winter conditions.
Even if the percentages quoted are incorrect, it is worth reflecting upon how much time we spend indoors and to what extent this might be contributing to negativity and stress.
Do people who get outdoors year round have a better sense of well-being?
It would seem to break down a bit in terms of farmers who are often under large amounts of stress (for example when fuel prices were very high during crop season) who also spend large amounts of time outdoors. Perhaps it is their longer time in nature that allows them to endure the long hours and hardships?
Interestly, I talked with a farmer's wife over the xmas holidays who discussed the possibility that they would keep their cows indoors during the summer because their milk production drops off so much when pastured (about 100 liters per day or $57 CDN per cow). I had a bad viseral reaction to this idea, especially when it was revealed that they shell out $2000 per month on medical fees mostly for antibiotics which, incidentally, organic dairy farmers cannot use. These are not evil corporate farmers; they are a family farm struggling to stay profitable and this is what is looming on their horizon now. Many farmers are apparently considering this switch to keeping dairy cows indoors all summer.
All this makes me wonder if we are losing touch with nature and what this might mean for our well-being and the well-being of animals and the environment. It also makes me wonder what it means to be "in-touch" with nature? Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that getting out on my bike or running is one of my primary ways of keeping in touch with nature. Lately, I've found that reading about forest ecology has made me look at the trees around me differently and has helped me to feel more "in-touch" with nature. I'm not sure that his is making me overly happy; I'd probably say it helps keep me positive and distracts me from other matters that might wear on me if I maintained a focus on them for too long.
I don't think we can take it for granted anymore that people will make the effort to stay in touch with nature. Kids are hooked on the internet and videogames and parents are bubble-wrapping their kids by not making them walk to school and back when they could be. Sub-divisions are built so that kids can't engage in sports or other activities without being driven to a facility miles away. Today school was called off because school board officials are afraid of letting kids go outside in the cold. The media chimes along with nonsense about staying indoors on cold days.
I don't know what the answer is. I do think we need to become more aware of how out-of-touch we have become with nature and figure out ways to be more proactive in ensuring that we can be more in-touch. Perhaps the first step might be simply to try to calculate how much time we spend indoors, consider whether it is too much, and, if it is, become more proactive about bringing that percentage down. Perhaps we should track our time in nature for a few weeks just to bring awareness to the issue and track progress.
It would be nice if we could increase the quality of our nature experiences, however, I think that it is also worth thinking about ways to simply increase the quantity of our nature experiences because the percentage of time we now spend in nature has become so small.
To increase the quality of our outdoor experiences I would recommend reading anything by Bernd Heinrich who I recently discovered. His books can help tremendously in increasing the quality of our outdoor experiences, and, perhaps by that route, increase the quantity of our outdoor experiences.