The sound of loons on a lake. The smell of a campfire. That burning sensation in your calves when you realize that a “moderate” hike is really moderate for someone who actually hikes more than once every 5 years. Ah, the outdoors. Since moving to the great city of New York, my time spent outside has considerably dwindled. I mean technically I still go “outside” from time to time, but what I’m referring to is the true outside. Being in nature.
There are a lot of perks to living in a city, but one of the greatest limitations is the ability to experience nature. That being said, there are plenty of ways to experience it (which I’ll touch on in a bit), but by and large experiencing something au natural is, well, scarce (unless you’re talking about dirty hipsters and their non-showering ways).
And even for folks who live in suburban areas, being in places that aren’t your lawn is becoming more and more rare as we depend on being able to access a monitor of varying sizes. But why does that matter? Who cares if we don’t stand in the woods anymore? The woods are dirty and there’s no WiFi. Well, I’m glad I pretended you asked that. Allow me to enlighten you.
Getting out into nature, in general, is a relaxing endeavor. In fact, I probably couldn’t name something more relaxing than sitting in front of a campfire. That instinctual feeling of safety a fire brings is still very much a part of our beings, and there’s really nothing that can satisfy that feeling other than an actual fire. Believe me. I tried staring at a YouTube video of a fire for 2 hours… it didn’t work.
But beyond just the campfire, simply being in an environment where there’s no electric hum, no engine sounds, no sounds of, well, civilization, is relaxing. There’s that initial shock of your brain going “Wait wait wait wait! I don’t hear a car! I don’t hear typing and clicking! I don’t hear any notifications coming from my phone! Everything’s gone wrong!” But then your brain realizes all of that is OK. It’s different enough from everything you’re normally used to that you just have no choice but to assume that the stress of everything you’re normally used to doesn’t belong here either.
And then a magical, super-hippy thing happens. You re-tune yourself to the world. To the earth and trees and grass and little whirlygig things that fall from the trees. I realize that’s a far-out statement to make (and that simply using the term “far-out” is super hippy-ish), but it absolutely happens. I’m not saying you need to pray to Gaea or put rocks on your forehead or anything like that. Or even believe any of that. All I’m saying is that when you spend enough time out in nature and away from all these people-made things, if you wait long enough there’s this noticeable shift in your soul/being/brain/what-have-you, where, for lack of a better description, you sync with nature. And you don’t even have to take drugs to feel it (though if you want to, it’s your life, you do you)!
As you can guess, all these things ultimately mean that once you’ve had your fill of outdoor time, you come back into the civilized world feeling refreshed and replenished. At least for a little while. The last time I went camping it only took me 20 minutes of New York City traffic to zap all the refreshment I had stored up. But at least I was refreshed. Hell, the fact that I lasted 20 whole minutes before being completely miserable due to traffic should speak volumes to the impact of getting your nature fill.
The great news is that some solid nature is generally never all that far away. If you’re in New York, the Adirondacks and Catskills are totally accessible (by train even!). And even if you can’t or don’t want to go camping, there’s nature to be found (though why would you not want to go camping?). The obvious answer of course is Central Park, but I think you can do better. By all accounts I made up in my head, Prospect Park completely blows Central Park out of the water. It’s not nearly as crowded, and there are nooks and crannies to the park where you can be completely alone and in the woods, and forget that you’re in a city. Astoria Park is a lovely area too if you’re up in that area. And Ft. Tryon Park and The Cloisters are not just good for nature, but for getting some history in ya as well.
So make it a point to get out there, put your toes in some dirt, and smell some leaves. Your body will benefit, your soul will recharge, and your sanity will thank you. At least until you realize your sanity is talking to you, making you very clearly insane.