We all have things that get us by – touchstones in our lives that ground us, where we find comfort, things that we lean on in good times and bad.
If you have read my previous columns, you may be able to guess that nature has always filled that role for me.
I grew up in the suburbs, but my grandparents had a ranch 90 miles up the road where I spent a ton of time immersed in nature. I always loved being outside, seeing animals and being active. I still do.
Throughout my life, nature has been the one constant thing that I could rely on. It gave me a career, many friends and several hobbies. My love for nature and my need to be in nature has been one of the strongest forces in my life.
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But nature has offered me more than enjoyment. I have felt healthier and happier when I have lived in areas where nature was nearby. It makes me feel better physically and mentally when I can take a roll in the park, bird watch by the water or work in the garden. I don’t feel right if I’m not outside at least a little every day.
I remember a few years back when I was in the hospital for almost a month and only had a view of another part of the hospital. I was so starved for nature that I treasured the stray pigeon or gull feather that would lazily drift by my window. I’m convinced that having birds or trees to look would have boosted my emotional and mental state tremendously and made that stay a little more bearable.
When I finally got out, I insisted on taking a drive through Point Defiance Park with the windows down on the drive home. The smell of the forest made me feel better immediately.
I’m certainly not the only one who has discovered the benefits of nature. Time in nature to promote mental and physical health is important in many cultures. In Japan they have a tradition of “forest bathing,” which is walking in the forest to improve health. In Norway they have friluftsliv, which is loosely translated to “open air life” and is just what it sounds like.
We don’t have any such traditions in this country but I believe that we’d be better off if we did. I think we would all be healthier, happier and have a different perspective if we spent more time in the nature.
Here in Tacoma, we are extraordinarily privileged to have access to amazing parks nearby that allow us all to enjoy the beauty and benefits that the natural world has to offer. We have forests, beaches, wetlands and more. There are great playgrounds to play in and pretty places to take a quick drive with the windows down.
We also have two local agencies that offer not only parks but also guided activities to get you outside: Metro Parks Tacoma and Pierce County Parks and Recreation Services. We have the Tacoma Nature Center with interpretive trails, indoor displays and outdoor activities. There are also tons of opportunities to explore nature with private groups such as the Audubon Society and Harbor WildWatch.
So get outside, Tacoma. I’ll see you out there!
Paula Larson s a freelance writer and retired wildlife biologist. She is one of six reader columnists who have written for this page this year. This is her final column. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.