Shifting Gears / Drawing good health from nature
Published 7:08 pm, Tuesday, October 30, 2012
What could be more beautiful. That stretch of glowing, golden, blue-skied, gentle-breezed and sun-kissed days of the weeks of October. With gusto I await this season -- this one, the best ever, in my short-term memory -- time to be outdoors, within the outdoors, hanging out with nature, working along side her, blowing leaves and closing down my garden. My feet ache and my shoulders. But I cannot stop. This is my addiction. Just one more patch of leaves, over there. Oops, I forgot to cut back that astilbe. Oh, look at that little phlox still blooming. And, I stop and look, just look. My endorphins are running. I am content.
I know I'm not alone in this experience. So many of us share this inexplicable urge to be outside, doing simple and useful things. It's harvest time, after all. Do we even remember what that means? It's always harvest time, so to speak, at the supermarket. But real harvest time is a big affair that happens outdoors and with a different sort of abundance than the supermarket.
After it became too dark to blow leaves, I watched a movie -- "Food, Inc." It was, sadly, about harvest time and farming American style. Blue skies and fresh air, the smell of earth were not part of the scene. Instead, I saw what is done to the life that becomes our food. Massive stretches of the same crop, sprayed with pesticides from low flying planes, animals living their entire lives in the dark, in containers too small to turn around, fed food genetically engineered to produce bodies too heavy for legs to stand on, farmers owned by Monsanto and unable to work the land in the sustainable way they long to. Then, a contrast with a farmer in the Shenandoah Valley growing crops and animals in cahoots with nature, as they should be. Not wealthy, but happy in that contented way one has when working within nature.
A book -- "Last Child in the Woods" -- identifies an astonishing and tragic disconnect between children and the outdoors. A "nature deficit disorder," the author says, has occurred in today's wired and sedentary generation. It is linked to rises in obesity, attention disorders and depression. Research confirms what we have sensed, that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development, as well as for the physical and emotional health of all of us.
There is an island off the coast of Greece, Ikaria. The New York Times called it "the island where people forget to die." On Ikaria, people reach the age of 90 at two-and-one-half times the rate of Americans (for males, they are four times more likely to reach the age of 90 than are American males). Alzheimer's symptoms, which affect half of all Americans over 85, are simply not present on Ikaria. What is the secret? It seems to be a few things -- a large factor being living within nature, eating local, simple and seasonal food, not processed or pesticided, walking outdoors a lot, napping, being in community, not rushing.
Nature and us. Above all else, before all else, we are physical beings. We are, like all that lives, children of nature. Our bodies require her bounty and can be deceived only to our detriment. Our psyches require her company. There is no substitute. From earliest childhood to oldest age and all in between, we are sustained by nature. Is it possible that all of our ills, of body, mind and character, stem from divorcing ourselves from our source? I think, perhaps, it could be. Could we reverse our direction, little by little? Would we dare to be simple and contented?
Carol Swenson is a counseling psychologist with a practice in Westport. Her "Shifting Gears" appears monthly, and she may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.