Well, as I sit here writing beside my fan, trying to stay cool in the unbelievable heat of the city summer, part of me wonders whether all that time and energy spent longing for warmth during the winter was so well-spent after all. Either I’ve gotten old and stodgy or summer’s extremes really have gotten as uncomfortable as winter’s. I just can’t seem to accomplish the proverbial goal of beating the heat. Even the simple act of cooking has become impossible. Temperatures soar to melt-the-brain levels after only a few minutes of boiling a single pot of water. Nothing that can’t be safely eaten raw comes through our door these days. Hmmm, so far I’d say global climate change isn’t showing itself to its best advantage. Maybe we should change our minds and stick to that protocol thingy after all.
Still, many aspects of these warm months will never die in my heart. Who, no matter how hot and sweaty, could argue the joys of swimming in glorious silky lake waters, walking scantily-clad through the woods, and spending endless hours socializing with friends in the great outdoors?
Many of us Canadians do an awful lot of hibernating in the winter. Summer thus becomes a time of refreshing mental and physical freedom. A time to walk straight out the front door without any prior getting-ready period, a time when our living spaces seem so much less confining because they are just one of the many areas in which we spend our days, and a time when strangers’ smiles seem so much easier to garner.
While there are those among us who see winter as an ideal opportunity to reconnect with the natural beauty around us, I suspect that many of us do a lot more engaging with the natural world during the summer. This is our time as Canadians to get out there and do all those things we feel we can only dream about for a good chunk of the year.
What is it about being outdoors surrounded by beautiful natural wonders that makes us feel so good? Why is there nothing so psychologically fulfilling as experiencing the real thing? Photos, magazines, adventure shows — these things all give us a taste for what’s out there, but nothing satisfies like actually being there. There’s a lot of talk in the environmental literature about the importance of a connection with nature, about the idea that (kind of like time spent with our parents when we’re little) time in and with nature feeds the spirit in an intangible, but vitally important way.
Quietly canoeing across a lake, puttering with our kids in the mud by the bay, following the fresh tracks of a deer, breathing in luscious air sweetened by rain on the forest floor : we gain immeasurable fulfillment from these seemingly simple experiences. They form deep and lasting memories, and can also act to inform the way we feel about and respond to threats to natural spaces.
Spending time in and with nature is clearly beneficial to us as individuals. Who doesn’t feel refreshed, relaxed, and revitalized after even just a weekend immersed in nature’s wonders? But it seems that hanging out in the natural world goes beyond providing easily described individual pleasures. This act can also allow us to regain a bit of a sense that we are not just individuals, alone in this big world, but instead are connected — maybe in what feels like an indescribable way — to so many other living things, that we exist as an interconnected part of a greater whole.
Engaging with the natural world is an important part of life — important both for our own sense of well-being, and for ensuring that we know places well enough to feel a sense of responsibility towards them, a sense that we might care about what happens to them in the future.
So when you get that itch to head for the trails, go for it, knowing that time spent rekindling a connection with nature is doing yourself, and the world, a real favour.