Why Nearby Nature Is Just as Useful as the Great Outdoors (Dr. Kathleen Wolf)

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Dr. Kathleen Wolf Humans Outside

Depending on your background of using nature and heading outside, you might think of spending time outdoors as something you go do instead of something that’s on the other side of your front door.

And if you do make a habit of going into the nature that’s close to home, you might be tempted to think that the same-old, same-old isn’t as good as shaking it up and going somewhere news and different.

Dr. Kathleen Wolf has made a career of researching human use of nature and its benefits as a research social scientist at the school of environmental and forest sciences at the University of Washington. She joined in Season 3 for an overview of how much time in nature is really useful (spoiler alert, it’s about 20 minutes a day!). And in this episode she talks about the benefits of nearby nature and how to get the most out of it.


Some of the good stuff:

[3:54] What Kathy’s been doing since we last spoke

[7:54] What is nearby nature?
[10:31] What people think of as nature and why making generalizations isn’t a good idea

[15:23] What nearby nature factors appeal to people?

[19:44] The role of mindfulness in nearby nature

[22:45] Is there any benefit to doing the same thing in nature over and over?

[25:37] What it’s like to stare at the same tree for 70 minutes

[27:33] What Amy has learned by doing the same thing over and over again

[33:33] How people can create a great nearby nature experience no matter where they are

[41:40] Why nature is like nutrition

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Listen to this episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside

Amy Bushatz: When we talk about heading outside, it can be easy to think about it as a trip, a location, or a destination. After all who doesn’t picture the vast American west or wide open spaces. Just a little bit, when they think about the great out. But here Humans Outside, we’re all about getting outside daily. And for most people that does not include wide open spaces. It includes backyards. It includes city blocks. It includes a balcony or a walk on the street, or some grass and a stream in the park. It includes birds and flowers and many other wonderful things. And the key to all of them is that they are right where you are.

One important factor about getting outside daily is to think about outside as right where you are also known as nearby nature. The nature that is right outside your door is as important, or maybe even more important than anything. Dr. Kathleen Wolf might know that better than anyone. A research social scientist in the school of environmental and forest sciences at the university of Washington, Kathy studies human use of nature and its benefits. She joined us since season three, almost 100 episodes ago if you can believe it, to talk about what the research says about spending time outside daily and whether 20 minutes is a good amount of time. And today she’s coming back to talk about nearby nature and how to get the most.

Kathy welcome back to Humans Outside. I’m honored to have you here.

Kathy Wolf: Amy. Thank you for inviting me back in that very generous introduction. I must say.

Amy Bushatz: Well as a, not as a researcher, because I’m not one, but as somebody who loves to read others’ research, I so appreciate your time and attention on this subject and just spending a little bit of time here talking about it.

Kathy Wolf: Yeah. I’m so looking forward to this and I might add, as we begin, I’m anticipating some of your questions and I’ll be speaking, not only from my own research, but really from the studies that are coming from a community of science that now spans the world. There’s just really been a surge of study about those everyday encounters with trees, parks, green space and whatever near our homes, our workplaces, our schools, and looking forward to sharing some of the highlights of that.

Amy Bushatz: That’s right, because when we talked in 2021, you were experiencing the nature benefits you found through COVID required, social distancing. You were spending more time in your own backyard. You were spending lots of time kayaking. So I’m wondering if you can start by just filling us in, what have you been up to in the last year and what exciting things are happening in your research, the outdoor world, and that connection to nature and culture, but also in the research that you’ve been seeing, coming out in this last period of time.

Kathy Wolf: Wow. So let me unpack that a little bit. First my own experiences of nature during COVID I’ve we, we, a group of people we have continued kayaking and we have now logged over, well almost 900 miles in the area around Seattle, central Puget Sound, Straits of Juan de Fuca and so on. And it’s been remarkable because with that intensive level of activity, we have watched the change of seasons, how the water changes, how the bird life changes. And while out doing that, we encounter some places that are not accessible by car, only by the shore. And so we are seeing some massive, beautiful trees and I’ve so enjoyed that. And in size, in how they manage their root systems managed to continue that grip on shoreline rocks, and slopes, steep slopes and so on.

So it’s really, it’s almost inspiring to see that, to see the tenacity of nature, the tenacity of living organisms in the face of COVID and in the face of all the challenges before us.

But then I’ve also been busy on the work side as well. And in fact, a couple of projects that are kind of, well, they’re not coming to a close, but we have data that we’re beginning to analyze.

One is we’re looking at green schoolyard transformation. So how might schoolyards within neighborhoods be transformed into community parks? So they’re used more actively after school and during weekends. Another project I’m working on is with the American Planning Association wherein we’re attempting to take the mass, the extent of nature and health research and translate it into sort of best practices for urban planning to assure that people do have access to nearby nature.

The third project is I’m working with a multidisciplinary team and we’re focusing on a Iquitos Peru, where there are these informal settlements also known as slums and they’re floating communities on the edge of the Amazon river. So we’re attempting to understand through health, human health and ecological measures what do they gain, what do they benefit from this very direct contact with the river enivornment?

Amy Bushatz: Hmm. That’s so, that’s so interesting. Three different, very different types of research, but I can’t wait to see what you have come out of the schoolyard one in particular, because what an opportunity to have that sort of nature space in a spot that’s already designated for play and is already public property for practical purposes, but goes unused so many hours and is right there in so many neighborhoods. So that’s, that’s really interesting and exciting.

Kathy Wolf: And I’ll just mention that you have tapped the key elements of this project in that the schools that we’re working on, and they’re based in Tacoma, Washington, but we’re working with the Trust for Public Land, and they have a national school yards program, green school yards program. And the selection of the schools was defined by an absence or the disparity of parks distribution within that particular city. So you’re absolutely right. Property availability either. Maybe there are no properties or maybe they’re too expensive. So why not make use of schools in a more effective way for nature exposure?

Amy Bushatz: So speaking of nearby nature, of course, that’s what we are talking about today, about nearby nature and making the most of it. So would you, you’ve used the term as well already today, can you start by defining what that is for us? What is nearby nature?

Kathy Wolf: I would have to say that it, it sort of eludes definition, if you will, it’s more of a sense. It’s more of an intuition of what is it literally near you, be it near your home or your office or your school that offers respite that offers time away from busy-ness, from the focus of work or school. And enables you to take breaks, be it physical activity being out in the space or even simply looking at it or through it. That from again, this community of science all over the world is suggesting that those are very valuable experiences. And from a physiological sense, reducing stress and anxiety, from a mental health perspective, for some people reducing depression. From a physical health perspective, literally being in this space, even low grade, if you will moderate activity, all of this being valuable for health and being offered perhaps by nearby nature. What is it? Trees, streetscape, parks. And those are public spaces. But in your own yard, if you happen to have a single family home or, or live in a compound where there are some small spaces. It can be simple as a small kitchen garden, which I have and enjoy dabbling in, or it can be a bench next to a tree.

Really there is no sort of finite definition to this, but it’s where you can access nature, feel comfort within it, fell safe within it. And then begin to encounter some of these benefits that have been revealed by research.

Amy Bushatz: Are you aware of research that looks at why people think about nature as not being nearby? I mentioned in the introduction that I think people sort of get this vision of what nature is. That if they’re and especially if you’re talking about being in nature, you don’t necessarily think about what’s right outside your door. You think about going somewhere, the grand canyon or something vast and majestic. You think about perhaps doing what I did, which is moving up here to Alaska to have easier quote, unquote nature access. When, by doing that, of course I’ve realized since then I’ve discredited this idea, that nature is all around me and it’s just me looking for it, versus me going to it. Is there research that looks at why people think of it that way? Why people think of nature as being a destination?

Kathy Wolf: That’s a really interesting question. I must say that my research has really focused on nature and cities. So it’s really focused on this notion of nearby nature. But you know, you used sort of a universal term of why do we all think about nature as a destination. And my first response, we, I think we’re distinctive in the United States in thinking that way because of our wonderful national park system, our state for, or state and federal forest BLM lands and so on.

So we have these nature reserves that historically have been a legacy and they’ve actually been a part, I think, of the American identity. And not all nations share that. There are people who come, I’ve toured around with people who’ve come from other nations to learn about this national park system, but I’ve also traveled in Western Europe, Japan, Central America.

And in those places, this idea of nearby nature is not, you know, there’s not as great a distinction as we seem to have in America, in, in the United States. And so I, this idea of a destination is it’s a legacy, and I don’t think it’s as widely shared, maybe as your inferred. Because I’ve done research with people in cities who have never gone to a national park, have not spent much time out outside the city. And for them, the city park, the nearby, a child, little playground, a few trees in spaces nearby, that is nature for them. They’re totally comfortable with that. And so I think we have to be careful not to infer our own perceptions and lay them out over other people.

Amy Bushatz: I appreciate you challenging me on that very much because of course, you’re right. It’s exactly what I’m doing is saying, this is a problem that I have noticed some people experiencing or that I have experienced, or I’ve heard one person say they experienced. And so I have extrapolated that to a wide number of a wide number of people. So thank you. Thank you for challenging me on that because of course you would know much better than I, as you have done the research and I am but talking to the researcher, which is the point of this, of course.

Kathy Wolf: Yeah, just a couple of examples. My husband works at an environmental ed center here in Washington state and they have week-long programs bringing children from fourth and fifth grade from urban environments into the center. And there are some groups of children that arrive and they take the entire week just to develop comfort of being in a more wilderness setting.

Another example is I’ve colleagues in the US Forest Service, and they have been investigating what they call urban national forest. So these are places, particularly in Los Angeles, where the city edge butts up right against the forest. And what they’re finding is there some people who are very, some cultural groups who are very carefully entering these national forest, not really understanding what to expect, nor what is the behavior that is expected within these spaces. So I find this fascinating, these differences of perception and interpretation of what is nature?

Amy Bushatz: People have access to all levels of nature right out their home. Well, I guess it’s very varied. Right. But many people might have a backyard at single family home, like you mentioned earlier with songbirds, like that’s what I have outside my home right now. It’s spring in Alaska. So the songbirds are back, which is delightful. And they’re eagerly visiting my bird feeder along with the squirrel, which is you know, a mixed bag, so good for the good for birds though. You know, some people, as you’ve also mentioned might have more like a front stoop and some pigeons, which is nature too, but in it, but in an entirely different way. So give us some examples, if you can, of the benefits that might be to both or are there benefits to both.

Kathy Wolf: And by both, do you mean the larger sort of destination spaces as compared to those places that are really just right out the front door?

Amy Bushatz: Right. So I think by both, I mean more what we would think as a traditional backyard with the grass and the birds and whatever it is you have in your own literal property backyard, versus what someone might have if they live in an apartment complex and are going out the front door, but still have maybe birds out there, whether they be,

Kathy Wolf: Yeah yeah. So I’ll turn that question just a little bit. And rather than sort of describing in, in any detail what these differences might be what I, I think I’ll do is turn this to: what are the features of nearby nature that appealed to people that you might find in your backyard or in a nearby park or just down the street?

How would that be? Could I play with that a little bit? Okay, okay. So what do we see as elements of these nearby nature experiences that provide a benefit. And, you know, size is not all that important is what we’re finding. So what do the studies suggest? There is this idea called attention restoration theory. And it’s the idea that respite, time in nature as a respite from the focus tasks and the things that really deplete our mental capacity, what are some elements there? Well, one is soft fascination. I really liked this idea. That you see your own reaction to things that draw your attention without effort.

So you mentioned birds, bird feeders are wonderful because of that activity of the birds, whether the squirrels are in there, you know, nailing the food or not. It is fascinating for some people, but there can also be pollinators. Watching bees move through a patch of grass or flowers, wind in the trees change of flowers or textures through the season.

So any water, oh my gosh. Shoreline, fountains, whatever it might be. Water is very fascinating for people. That’s one element of it.

Another is complexity. So complexity is sort of like Goldilocks. Too much, and we’re like, oh, I can’t make sense of this, you know, I’m getting away. Too little, and it’s like, oh, I understand everything is boring. I’m outta here. Mid-level complexity in our environments, people find quite appealing.

Some of the recent research about all this is recognizing that in suggesting that biodiversity, a moderate amount of biodiversity in the places where we are located and looking and experiencing, is associated with the little extra benefit for mental health.

So, and then another principle is compatibility. That you feel safe within the space. That if you are, if you need to sit, that there’s a bench located where it’s valuable to you. If you are a walker, that there is a path without trip hazards. Say you’re an older person. Yesterday. I did a webinar with the in Seattle, what they’re calling an urban village. And it’s a program to try to encourage elders to age at home rather than having to be moved to an institution or a care center. And so we’ve talked a lot about forest bathing that they might incorporate into their village program, which means if they go to a small woods or a grove of trees and they want to participate in forest bathing, what are their needs? What is the compatibility in terms of being able to walk, to be able to rest once in a while, maybe there’s a restroom and so on. So less than what are the particular types of nearby nature, think more about what are the elements that draw you in, that satisfy you that give you an intuitive sense of better feelings and satisfaction while you’re in the space?

Amy Bushatz: Mm Hmm, That’s a really good perspective. Thank you for that. Okay that’s got the, that’s got the wheels turning over here. Maybe not in a way.

Kathy Wolf: That’s what I’m all about. Love to make those wheels turn.

Amy Bushatz: Maybe not in a way that can turn thoroughly just during this episode. So I might, I might have to mull this further, maybe on my run later, which is when I do, when I do all the, I dunno, decompressed thinking.

Kathy Wolf: So mentioning research there’s a lot of research about mindfulness and the role of nature in sessions in mindfulness. I do so much of mindfulness in my work thinking, writing, data analysis. I’ve been exploring research about mind wandering and mental health and nature for me is the time when I mind wander. When I cycle, when I kayak when I walk that my mind just goes to so many places. And I find that’s really valuable, but anyway you’re mind wandering and your wheels turning. I’m starting to get the feeling we may have a third session maybe in another year or so, right?

Amy Bushatz: Yeah. I’m not against it if you’re willing and I think, you know, I think a lot of people have that experience. Not to get too off track, but you always hear people say they have good ideas in the shower and showers peak mind-wandering time. So.

Kathy Wolf: Yeah. And what we’re seeing in psychology is the early literature on mind wandering was, it was a detriment because we’re not focusing, you’re not paying attention. You know, you’re a child in a classroom and you’re looking out the window and that’s mind wandering, and it’s not good. There seems to be a shift of late in the role of mind, wandering as a balanced. To focused attention, mindfulness and so on. So anyway the story continues.

Amy Bushatz: This story, this saga.

Kathy Wolf: Yes. It’s probably a saga. You’re right.

Amy Bushatz: Hey humans, did you know, you can officially join the Humans Outside 365 challenge and score some really cool and exclusive challenge swag, including a finisher metal and decal on HumansOutside.com/Challenge? You’ll also get an outdoor challenge guide written by me for you an exclusive challenge tracker and insider info all year long. You don’t want to be left out of this. There is never a wrong time to join the Humans Outside 365 challenge. So get going, join it today. Go to HumansOutside.com/challenge to learn more now. Now back to the show.

We did touch on this in our last episode, but I want to talk about it again. People feel that nearby nature only offers limited options, perhaps, and that they’re doing the same thing over and over again while they’re outside. And I had asked you about that before. But if we could talk about it again, I would appreciate it because I think that maybe this is a concern for some of our listeners here, that they’re building this outdoor habit, they’re going outside every day and they’re just doing the same day, same dang thing on every time, sit on the porch or whatever.

So I’m wondering, is there any negative to doing the same thing over and over again? Or conversely, is there actually a benefit to those repeat experiences? So I’m talking, walking the same path every day or that kind of thing.

Kathy Wolf: That’s a really good question. And from a research perspective I’m not recalling any sort of answer to that. But reflecting on the research more broadly I so this idea of Shinran Yoku forest bathing forest therapy. I’ve come to learn more and more about that because I’m interacting with an international network of people who are promoting this practice and doing research about it.

I mean, just two days ago, I participated the wonders of Zoom. I participated on a panel with a couple of scientists who are reporting their most recent research about forest bathing. And this was all hosted by the Korean forest service. So I’m interacting with people in South Korea as a part of this, ongoing understanding of role of nature and health.

And what I’m learning from forest bathing is attention to detail. So, if you think only of, well, you know, I’m going to be walking in the same place every day. This is repetitive. But one can pay attention to different things at a different level of detail. So if you’re doing this throughout the year, what are the seasonal changes?

As you mentioned, songbirds coming and going. I love that. And then, as song birds are nesting and they’re fledging their young and end of season when they’re starting to beef up a little bit to start that migration again. So thinking in a little more depth, paying just a little closer attention to what’s going on within that space that maybe you are experiencing repeatedly by choice or by necessity, whatever it may be.

And, as an expression of that I participated in a forest bathing session with two guides, these are people who are trained and practice guiding for this exercise. And they were from Singapore and Hong Kong and we did forest bathing with one tree. We spent 70 minutes with one tree on a campus. So there’s lawn all around and we just sit around there are like a dozen of us, this one tree and a series of graded exercises to bring our attention ever more closely to the detail, fragrance appearance, texture and so on. And so that’s really what I think we can think about this.

Another is just be a child. Be exploratory. You look at a kid, kids will sit in a patch you know, a couple, maybe a yard square, a little larger, and what they see and what they do within that space. So, you know, tap your inner child, if you will, in this situation.

Amy Bushatz: I have to know if hanging out with the same tree for 70 minutes was hard. Is that hard?

Kathy Wolf: I was a skeptic, I have to say. So I was at a conference of forest therapy guides. It was in California and there were options.

You could go to this one where they were going to a beautiful grove. There was a where you could go to a more manicured forest, ornamental forest. And then there was the single tree and I was a skeptic. I was like, I’ve done those others before. Can I really do this with a single tree? By the end of it. I was all in. They did really a remarkable job with it. And the, it was the sequence of bringing your attention, not just plop you down and okay, look at this tree. But it was the sequence. It was a sequence of gradual, immersion different senses, sharing, you know, within a group that might be another thing, is your experience with this place could become a dialogue with another person.

What are they seeing? What are they encountering and sharing that. That’s quite an important part of the forest therapy experience. So. I myself, in my neighborhood, I have about four or five different walk routes. So I’m a person, the repetition, I don’t mind to a certain extent, but I need a little more variety to really, I think, gain this benefit.

But if you are limited again by different circumstances, I think you can find interest in a place that you’ve been to many times.

Amy Bushatz: So I was thinking, while you’re talking about the 70 minutes with the one tree, about how, when we punish children, you might be tempted to put them in a corner, stare at the corner, or I can imagine being in the park. Just look at the tree.

Kathy Wolf: No, we don’t want to do that. We don’t want to set that, that mindset.

Amy Bushatz: Right. My, my sons and I often, especially in the winter time, because it’s very cold here. Right. And the woods provide quite a nice windbreak. And so it makes a really pleasant place to go. And you can ski back there, but in the winter time we will walk the same nature trail over and over again. And I have found, now that I’ve been doing this for a really long time, not every day, but over the matter of years, maybe once, twice, three times a week, especially in that season, that I can tell when things have changed. I can tell when we go back there and I couldn’t even actually tell you why I know this, but it feels moosey, there is a moose here. It feels moosey.,

Kathy Wolf: Mossey, moosey.

Amy Bushatz: Moose definition of Moosey is likely to have a moose,

Or we had a big wind storm come through. And obviously we did not go into the woods then because we have a lot of bark beetle kill trees back there. And I knew that that was going to be quite literally a disaster area for trees just falling in these hundred mile an hour winds. And so after the wind storm was over, we did go back there and we did just follow our curiosity to look at these trees that had fallen to the point that I went back several times and I, my husband and I went on a walk back then I was like, follow me. Let’s go look at this. Because the way that these trees had just snapped revealed the damage inside the core of the tree from the beetle. And it looked like thin paper inside the tree just wrapped in the tree because it had been so eaten out. It was the coolest thing inside of this, inside of the trees. And so we were just wandering, come look at this one, just like you said, very childlike, very exploration. And it was a wonderful experience, you know, and I got to see those things and I wouldn’t have seen them otherwise. And we just sort of followed our intuition, but knew where to look because of these, of these repeat experiences.

When I first started doing my outdoor time regularly that 20 minutes a day, which I’ve now been doing for over four years, I was worried about doing the same thing over and over again, because I’m such a person who feeds on repeat on patterns and habits and having repeat experiences. And you know I’m I’m very much eat this tempted, at least eat the same thing for lunch every day and things like that. And so, as I wandered back there day over day, I was concerned that I would be robbing myself somehow of having an ultimate nature experience by experiencing the same thing every day and falling into a habit within a habit, if you will. But now that it’s been longer than that, I really do think I’ve experienced exactly what you’re saying, which is that I can tell when it’s moosey.

Kathy Wolf: Yeah. So, what you have just recounted from your own experience I have so many thoughts. I like to share three. If I could. All right. First moosey. Love it. You mentioned you live in Alaska. I have one daughter and she is, she lives in Juneau, Alaska, and she is a part-time wilderness guide in the summers and she takes people out to observe coastal brown bears and she has taken my husband and I out on some wonderful experiences in beary places.

And I know what you mean. There’s a sense of, you know, one of those big critters is near us. You don’t know why. You can’t tell exactly why you have that sensation, but you know, the hackles kind of rise up a little bit on the back of your neck and you realize there’s a bear near us.

A second thought is you mentioned these trees that had fallen and observing the impact of the beetles on the trees. I love old gnarly trees and cities. Our cities now have a policy largely of hazard trees, risk trees, and arborists identify them and they try to get them out as quickly as possible because, you know, we don’t want damage to people or property or whatever. But I love old gnarly trees and many of them become gnarly because of disease. You know, that have burls or branches that are misshapen or whatever it might be. I just, there’s a beauty, there’s kind of an ugly beauty in some of these really old beat up trees.

But then the third thought that comes to mind is this repetition of observation and opening up one’s observances of a place. I’ve been trying to call up the name of the book, but a gentleman somewhere, I think in the Appalachian mountains wrote a book about going to a single rock. He would go to this rock and sit on it and observe what was happening, just in this one slice of view off the rock for a year. And the entire book is about his observations and the flow of life as viewed from the single rock.

So, there’s incredible potential in this, and it depends on the sort of place and type of nature that you like to view. But I think, even in the smallest spaces that you may have to be in repeatedly, there are these opportunities.

Amy Bushatz: Can you imagine trying to get an agent or publisher to pick up a book about experiences by a single rock for a year?

Kathy Wolf: I don’t know what his pitch was, wise, but it works. And it’s a wonderful book.

Amy Bushatz: No, I swear. This will be interesting. It’s not just a rock.

That’s great. What can people do to create a better nearby nature setup or have a better nearby nature experience wherever they.

Kathy Wolf: Well, I think I touched on that a little early on some of these concepts is, think about what is comfortable for you. Do you need activity? I am a person. I think you’re the same, you like to be moving while you’re doing all of this. And might there be a space either within your own property or nearby where you can be moving around comfortably. And then the second is this complexity, you know, thinking about how to, if you, it’s to your own garden, how do you introduce?

So one of my, one of my career meanders is landscape architecture and you know, there are a lot of design principles about how to layer in sensation, how to layer in experience and thinking about how to build in that complexity. And then the bio-diversity. So not only complexity in terms of layering or a different sort of materials but maybe biodiversity because of that, then there’s appeal to birds, insects, and other things that lend more to this opportunity for fascination within the space.

But compatibility is really important ages and stages, you know, for a young child being out in nature, it’s different than for an elder that may be more mobility impaired. And I’m thinking of an example. There’s a woman I met in Portland, Oregon, and very active outdoors. She had her first child and realized that the parks that she typically went to were not set up to be within with a young child, no place to change a diaper, no place to stop and feed your child. Whoo, the trails were horrible for the stroller. So she created a nonprofit called Hike It, Baby. And I now understand that there are people who’ve gathered around that, all across the nation to work with parks departments, to create spaces that are suited to people walking with children, young children.

So that’s the sort of thing we think about is compatibility, complexity, biodiversity. And then your own preferences, maybe you love the color red. So how do you introduce red into your environment? Or maybe like me, you prefer cool colors, the blues, the silveries, so you know, how do you bring that into your space and help it to flourish?

Amy Bushatz: I love that idea of seizing something that you love and that you respond to and putting it in your space. I, in the summertime, when it’s a very Alaska thing to do, we buy these huge hanging baskets or plant these huge hanging baskets and people get really excited about this. They book baskets from the local nursery months in advance. Like, I am supposed to go down and pick my basket pretty much now and pay for it so that I can go get it when it’s not too cold for it to be outside, and it’s beautiful. But I prefer, I love the color magenta, like not pink. Bright pink. And I always pick a basket that has that in it so that I can go and sit out there and look at it. Cause it’s just, so it makes me so happy. People cannot see us talking, but my sun, my I’m wearing glasses and they are the color that I like. Because when I look in the mirror, it makes me happy. It’s the same reason if you really like, you’re wearing the blue that you just spoke of. And I wear these glasses because. I can see the outline of the frame through them. And it’s, I’m literally looking through rose colored glasses. It’s great. So,

Kathy Wolf: And and I have to say again, people can’t see us, but when you talked about your magenta flowers, the look on your face of joy was so obvious.

I’m going to add another opportunity to, to all this. And that is I’ve done a couple of studies with colleagues about stewardship, about people who go out, and volunteer their time and work to restore, recover, manage green spaces. And we did a study here in the city of Seattle. And it’s not unusual because I have colleagues who are doing this in various cities across the country.

And what we’re finding is that there are some stewards that are like, oh, I’ll travel. I’ll go do that. And there are others like, my park, just down the street or my little forest grove just down the street. I go there. That’s what I do. It’s my place. So they’re combining the nearby nature. They’re combining activity. They’re combining familiarity.

And it blew me away because we did surveys of these volunteers at various places around the city of Seattle. There are some people that have been working in the same space for a decade or more. They bring the tool, you know, and there are other volunteers that come to the events, they bring their own tools, they grow plants that other volunteers can put it. So they’re incorporating nature into their life in an additional way of propagating plants and sharing those out. They bring food, they bring goodies, they bake goodies and they bring them for other volunteers that come to these events. So, you know, that’s another way is find a local group and connect with them because often they’re very friendly, very energetic people.

And, you know, I mean, instantly you make friends and in a way you go. You know, and there’s nothing more satisfying then pulling out, at least here in Seattle, invasive plants, Blackberry, or holly. Hauling that stuff out of the ground, and seeing instant change. So much of our jobs now are this long progression of activity and you never see any outcome, it’s like, oh, when are we going to finish this? You go out and do a stewardship project on a Saturday morning and, you know, instant results it’s so satisfying.

Amy Bushatz: That’s right. That’s right. And that can be trash cleanup or invasive weed pulling. And both of those, I would say invasive pulling is probably pretty seasonal. It depends where you live obviously, but trash pickup is a year round problem. So yeah. It is, and it is very rewarding. We do invasive, they call it the invasive weeds smack down and you go out and you yank out these huge invasive weed plants. The particular one that’s problem is vetch and it’s and is invasive and it swallows everything. And it is regrettably, I think, very beautiful. So, so I’m battling myself that, you know, pull out this flower, it’s killing the fire weed, which I love because it’s pink. And but on the flip side, I’m like, no, it’s this beautiful purple plant. Yeah, for the greater good for the greater good.

No, that’s great. And also I think the other thing about doing that other than the instant reward is that it, as you said, it creates this tie to the other people who are doing it, and it creates a sense of ownership over what you have around you. And so suddenly even if that nearby nature isn’t in your yard, it’s your nearby nature, because you’re the one taking care of it.

Kathy Wolf: There is definitely that sense of psychological ownership. You may not have legal ownership, but yeah there’s a sense of, I mean, it’s stewardship is generally the action about, and for nature, but what one hears when one talks to these people. So the way we did our surveys was we actually went to the locations where events were happening and I would step up to someone and say, you know, we kind of we’ve selected, if you wouldn’t mind, if you would fill out this survey, But I’ll take the shovel from you and I’ll keep working while you do the survey. And, you know, inevitably that sort of warmed up the relationship a little bit and they continue talking after filling out the little paper and the sense of care, a sense of care for the landscape is also part of this. And I think that probably enriches this sense of the value of nearby nature as well.

Might I add one more comment? All right. I’ve begun to think about how to, more, how to connect the research about nature and health, particularly nearby nature and health to the, every, you know, the experiences of people.

And so what I’m coming to realize is the experience of nature is not unlike nutrition. It’s not unlike food. So we require quality, good food, everyday vitamins, minerals, supply for our energy. Every once in a while, maybe after COVID, we go to the restaurant and we have a nicer meal and we hang out with some people, be it family, friends, whatever. That’s another sort of form of nutrition.

Then there is the Thanksgiving feast or the big get together a celebration with people. It’s memorable. It’s special food. That is the destination nature, if you will. The encounter with nature, so if you’re committed to nearby nature, it doesn’t mean that destination experience is not a value, but it’s a different kind. And it happens for different reasons. But nearby nature to me is sort of the everyday sustenance that we need and is valued. And we now know from the research provides a lot of different benefits.

Amy Bushatz: Kathy, thank you so much for your time today and for taking the time to share this research with us.

Kathy Wolf: My pleasure and thanks again for the invitation. And as I said, I have a hunch we might be talking again in the future.

Amy Bushatz: Seems likely.

Thanks so much for listening to this week’s episode of Humans Outside. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, give us a little love and leave a rating and review to make it easier for others to find the podcast, too. What you say matters. It really truly does make a difference. And until next time we’ll see you out.

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