A previous blog looked at the growing interest in forest bathing. Its many health benefits have been recognized in other parts of the world and in 1982, Japan famously made it a part of the country’s national health program. Here in the US, it’s heartening to watch the growing interest in reconnecting with the natural world even though we don’t have fancy names for it. I believe that a long overdue transformation is now taking place: a growing number of Americans are realizing the importance of reconnecting to nature and its many benefits in the midst of an unprecedented onslaught of technology and related lifestyle changes that pull strongly in the other direction. The healing benefits of immersion in the natural world are not just confined to personal health but also extend to having a larger sense of well being. In this blog, I’d like to share the narrative of an article that appeared in Longreads about just how life transforming the process of reconnection can be. It’s the story of Maura Kelly, a woman who experienced the kind of trauma and loss that, in essence, shut down her life and how re-orienting herself to nature restored her. Kelly writes: Growing up in suburban New Jersey, I never got the whole nature thing. In my middle-class town, surrounded by neatly engineered housing developments, the little “nature” I knew was unnatural. The grass of the boxy lawns, stripped of dandelions, shined a uniform pesticide green. The most memorable tree of my youth lived like a caged beast in an indoor shopping mall; Shel Silverstein would’ve wept to see it, imprisoned between the food court escalator and a fake waterfall with wishful pennies glittering on its floor…Since I never went to summer camp, since my parents had no country hideaway, I was a kid who thought the Great Outdoors wasn’t all that great. A tree by any other name was just as boring as every other tree. As her story unfolds, Kelly talks about a lifelong process whereby she slowly began to understand how beautiful the natural world could be. It was a lifelong journey as many things are. At one point in her life, she moved to New York where she felt she was “on top of the world”. Then tragedy struck. She experienced a perfect storm of life events that caused a kind of nervous breakdown. She couldn’t eat or work, and couldn’t sleep more than three hours a night: I couldn’t go out in public without disintegrating into tears — on the subway, in restaurants, at the gym, during a friend’s book party — triggered by the least little thing, like a long wait or a sad song. It felt at times as if I was slipping down some vast mountain into the abyss, unable to stop my steady descent, like a character out of some Edgar Allan Poe horror story. This went on for months and threatened never to end. Then an epiphany. Living in Brooklyn, she had raced out of the house in a kind of panic induced by her situation. Later she found herself wandering through the lush 30-acre urban oasis of Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park: I walked in circles there for a long time, until my toes and fingers began to freeze. That was the day I began to appreciate the power of trees… Walking there, with the cold late afternoon air in my cheeks, with the bare branches extending ahead of me across the vast winter sky, I felt more free, less trapped in my apartment and in my head. It felt so good that first time I walked that I went back again and again. Being there, away from all the concrete, neon, and brick, soothed my soul more than anything else could during that devil’s winter. There, instead of being taunted into one dark corner after another by the voices in my head, I went one way, round and round and turtled deep in my jacket, felt better able to listen to what was good in myself. Her powerful and beautifully written story continues and is worth reading in its entirety. I’m sure there are many others like it. It’s worth noting that Maura Kelly’s journey is increasingly backed up by scientific studies that confirm how natural immersion can heal the subtle but very real anxieties of our technologically accelerated contemporary lives. For example, new research from Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Human Development suggests that living near a wooded landscape may have significant heath benefits. The study pointed out that urban dwellers living in close proximity to forests were found to have strong, healthy functioning of a key part of the brain and were better able to cope with stress. Stay tuned. — Tom Valovic Tom Valovic is a volunteer with the Worcester Tree Initiative and a journalist. He has written for “The Boston Globe”, “The San Francisco Examiner”, “Annals of Earth”, “The Whole Earth Review”, and many other publications. Tom is the author of “Digital Mythologies”, a book of essays that explores the relationship between technology and the natural world. He can be reached at [email protected].