How nature keeps us grounded in a world turned upside down

The spread of the coronavirus over the last few weeks has left millions suddenly fearing for their livelihoods. As companies all over the world teeter on the edge of bankruptcy, mass layoffs have thrown huge numbers of people into a state of panic about how they’re going to make it through this and still be able to put food on the table. And to make matters worse, with shelter-in-place orders locking down parts of the U.S., many of us now find our involvement with the outside world limited to a few “essential activities”: grocery shopping; obtaining medical supplies – and, among other things, hiking. Read more ›

The Battle for the Tongass

Sprawling across 16.7 million acres of southeastern Alaska, the Tongass National Forest has been described as the “crown jewel” of America’s National Forest system. The largest of the country’s national forests, this spectacular landscape is home to some of the last surviving old-growth temperate rainforest on the continent, as well as numerous species of rare and imperiled wildlife. The Washington Post reports that President Trump has instructed Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to open it up to industrial-scale logging. Read more ›

The Science of Hiking

Harvard physician Paul Dudley White, the ‘father of American cardiology’, believed that a brisk, five mile walk every day is as good a remedy for a restless mind as anything the worlds of medicine and psychology have to offer. Many literary notables, from Charles Dickens to Will Self, have written at length on the restorative effects of their peregrinations through the urban jungle, but as Dr. White well understood, there is something unique about walking in natural surroundings that no amount of urban wandering can approximate.

George Orwell, Thomas De Quincey, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Søren Kierkegaard, Thomas Mann, Vladimir Nabokov, Henry David Thoreau and countless other writers have remarked on the effects of time spent in nature on our intellectual and creative faculties. The physicist Werner Heisenberg was a keen hiker, as were Paul Dirac, Otto Frisch and Lise Meitner, all of whom reported having come to key scientific discoveries while out walking in the hills.

For the English Romantics, through whose influence wandering the countryside à pied became a popular leisure pursuit in England in the late 1700s, immersion in nature was not only a source of literary inspiration (in + spirare — ‘to breathe in’), but fundamental to the creative process. William Godwin “made whole books” as he walked. Across the Channel, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who spent much of his youth wandering the hills of Central Europe, found in the natural world a clarity of thought that eluded him amid the bustle of urban life. “Cities”, Rousseau concluded, were “the abyss of the human species”. Read more ›