How nature keeps us grounded in a world turned upside down

The spread of the coronavirus over the last few weeks has left millions of people suddenly fearing for their jobs and livelihoods. Companies teeter on the edge of bankruptcy and mass layoffs have thrown employees into a state of panic about how they’re going to make it through this crisis 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 small number of “essential activities.”

Alongside grocery shopping and obtaining medical supplies, some local authorities are listing hiking as one such activity – and rightly so. At this moment of chaos and uncertainty, getting out into nature is more vital than ever. Read more ›

New Report: Protecting the Places We Love: How the Land and Water Conservation Fund Supports Outdoor Recreation in Nevada

Environment Nevada State Director Levi Kamolnick and I have spent the last few months working on a report on the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and its importance for land preservation and outdoor recreation in Nevada. Funded by our friends at the Western Conservation Foundation, the report was released last week as a joint publication by Environment Nevada and Frontier Group. Here’s the intro (you can download the full report here – and check out my blog on the LWCF on the Frontier Group site) 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”.

Over the last few decades, the restorative effects of nature — understood intuitively by writers and artists for centuries— have become a key focus of scientific research. With more than 50% of the world’s population now living in cities, interest in the ramifications of our increasing alienation from the natural world has led to an increased understanding of the importance of nature exposure in terms of its impact on our psychological well-being. Read more ›