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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.
The longer I keep my outdoor habit, the more ways I discover why spending time in nature gives me a connection to place and belonging, and the variety of ways that happens.
If you’ve been listening here for awhile, you know how much I love where I live. That’s not a fluke or happenstance, either. I learned to love where I live because I spend so much time out in it. I adore my small town, where the outdoor festivals, people and culture are so quirky and endearing.
I love the way paths move through the woods and the way the creeks meander to the river, or the ways the leaves seem to go from bud to explosion overnight thanks to the long sunlight hours in the summer. I love the way everything is muted and quiet after a heavy snowfall. I even love things I used to hate, like the way the cold air moves in the winter wind hits my face, or how the low, barely there sun touches the path in January.
Studies show that feeling a strong sense of place and belonging to specific location increases happiness. And that’s about more than appreciating just the leaves and trees or just the people and culture. It’s about the mixture of both.
This week was a reminder of why and how that is.
The Vanimal needed an oil change, and so I dropped it off and then parked myself in a cafe window and then, later, on a patio to knock out some work and some phone calls. It was the morning before another one of our local festivals, and prime people watching time. The sun was out, the flowers in bloom and people walking down the sidewalk. A friend waved at me through the window. The manager at the car shop and I talked about our town and his military service. I gave a dog a scratch behind the ears.
I felt an emotional connection to the people around me who were also enjoying this outdoor space.
People are a part of nature, too, and being outside together creates a connection with those other humans. It’s an important, meaningful and happiness-increasing part of heading outside. Unless you live in the absolute middle of nowhere, far away from other humans on purpose, your outdoor experience is going to include people. Connecting and building relationships with them is going to be a benefit of going outside.
My sense of place has also meant an emotional connection to nature. I used to think that to find that I was going to need to take up some of the traditions of forest bathing, including finding a real “sit spot,” or a small space somewhere surrounded by nature that I can observe things day over day. You may have heard me talk about how I recently realized that my hot tub has become such a space in a way, because from there Ive been watching the same branches grow and change over time.
But I’ve also realized that this day over day understanding of what’s around me has become more than that, too, thanks to this constant immersion in my local outdoors. I am learning to become appreciative of the patterns and rhythms of how things grow and change, the seasons and those things impact me. And that’s about loving where I live, too. Because I’m not noticing these things out of dislike or waiting for them to stop. Im noticing them out of appreciation — a partnership, really, in each way this place and the attachment I feel to it are impacting me.
When I think of taking a walk through my little town, it’s because I want to see the flowers that I know are in bloom or, in the winter, how the frost is sitting on a certain tree. I know that I’ll encounter unexpected changes, because that’s how the world works — but also the comfort of pattern , seeing the same things in their place and time over and over again.
And I know that because I have been outside and learned to experience it. The comfort of anticipation gives me a sense of safety and security, another important part of belonging. In all of its diversity and fresh newness, the outdoors also has a safety net of pattern.
Enjoying that meant heading down recently to that festival known as Colony Days for a full day of fun. We started the day with a fundraiser breakfast, then a fun run fundraiser through town. Then, we moved on to the annual parade, which I go to judge and let me just say how fun THAT was. We walked up and down the streets for food vendors and events, saw friends and neighbors, soaked up the sun and had a lovely yet completely exhausting time. It was perfect.
You can see a photo from that fabulous day and more on Humans Outside on Facebook and Instagram, and of course I – as always – want to see your photo too. Share them on Facebook and Instagram with #humansoutside365. Until next time, Ill see you out there.