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NATURE EXPERIENCED AS SUBJECTS
By Howard Clifford
Personal experience impacts my convictions at a deeper level than anything else. I am indebted to my academic training – critical to meet the challenges confronted in social work. However academia didn’t prepare me for the feelings flooding over me when Jean smilingly handed me our first born. Similarly I value nature research but when I experience nature as a subject I am taken to a different level. Emotionally powerful – uniquely individualized.
This proved true for Jane Goodall and also for wolf biologist, Doug Smith. He previously worked with David Meech, whose description of the social structure of the wolf pack was considered definitive. What they didn’t know was wolves behave differently in their natural settings than they do in captivity. They now state: “thinking of a wolf as alpha is no more appropriate than calling a human parent or a deer an alpha.” I think Smith’s conclusion, following decades of studying individual wolves, is the way forward to a richer understanding of wildlife. He states wolves have “fantasticindividuality”. “You can no longer say wolves do this or wolves do that. They differ in personality as much as humans do.”
Having lived 40 years at cliffLAND, I believe Smith’s experience rings true. CliffLAND is a wild area – large enough for most non-migratory wildlife to spend all or most of their lives as my co-inhabitants, as well as many of their descendants. I have many stories involving individuals of different species that convince me of their “fantastic individuality”. They read our intent and that of other species. Some are curious and make contact – some in ways that were special – beyond my comprehension. Many are very adaptable responding uniquely to changing situations. I developed deep affection for them.
I no longer believe wildlife are innately fearful of humans. Darwin observed this lack of fear on the Galapagos Islands. At cliffLAND a short-tailed weasel took residence in our home – eventually showing no alarm at our presence. Pepi and I visited a Beaver pond. Initially they slapped their tail in warning but within a few visits no longer did. They eyed us and swam ever closer – eventually taking offerings of aspen saplings from my lap and my hands. Pepi occasionally gave me the look of “isn’t this something.” I understood how Grey Owl, experiencing their unique personalities, could no longer trap them. They were becoming my friends too.
It shouldn’t be a surprise we learn more about the richness and complexities of other species when we come to know them individually. The closest most of us get to experiencing this is through our pets.
John Muir argued adamantly against taking Stickeen on a wilderness excursion because dogs had no place in such wild areas. When Muir snuck off before daybreak to explore a glacier he was annoyed to find him at his heels. I have wondered why Stickeen chose Muir. How could he have read his soul so well? So fortunate for us he did so. They came face to face with death, convincing Muir that Stickeen understood this and also rejoiced as much as he when they escaped death’s grasp. This transcendental experience forever changed his perspective: “I have ever since been looking in deeper sympathy into all my fellow mortals.”
I understand. My journey at cliffLAND was enriched because Pepi shared many years with me in my journey. We bushwacked to every part of the property and he had an uncanny ability to lead me back when I was turned around. He pointed out things I would have missed – a recently born porcupine with quills still soft and flexible – the first recorded cliffLAND sighting of a Blanding’s turtle. I never knew him to harass or harm wildlife. Chickadees were comfortable with him at my side while they took seeds from my hand, ruffled grouse paid him no heed, squirrels waited for him to come out so they could play. Children and adults loved him. Being a social worker I was amazed by his ability to read our mental state. Following my dramatization of John Muir to a youth group, a staff described an unusual experience. She had watched with alarm as a girl, who recently tried to take her own life, pulled out a knife. Pepi made his way to the girl – she smiled and put him on her lap – put the knife away.
Nearing the end of his life we were sitting together on top of Blueberry. I was reflecting on the beauty of the place and wondered how many experiences had we shared. I looked at him. He seemed as deep in thought and as enraptured by the beauty around us as I was. We locked eyes – a moment without a word of exchange – I knew something special took place. I can never know to what extent his feelings or thoughts were mirroring mine. I know there was something deeper being exchanged that was more profound than I believed possible. Like John Muir I was to look at my fellow creatures differently from that moment on.
I am convinced he loved cliffLAND. I believe he needed nature outings as much as I do. I think his name deserves to be on the Circle of Gratitude as much as any other name. I have no doubt that nature at cliffLAND was blessed by his presence. As Doug Smith said about wolves I say about dogs. “You can’t say dogs do this or dogs do that. Pepi taught me differently. I think this is true for all species.
As each of us move in the direction of communing with nature as individual subjects, our lives become richer. We become more passionate – we can’t help but do what we can to protect these sacred places. We are becoming ambassadors for the Wild Kingdom.
CREATING AMBASSADORS FOR WILDNESS
By Howard Clifford
Einstein cogently declared that intuitive insights, emerging out of authentic experiences, predicts the path forward. Science is where inspirational insights once were, science will become what intuitive insights now are. Over a century ago, conservation icons shared their nature experience based insights. John Burroughs “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” John Muir “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the Mountains is going home, that wilderness is a necessity.” Thoreau “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” “Each town should have a park or rather a primitive forest, of five hundred or a thousand acres, where a stick should never be cut for fuel, a common possession forever, for instruction and recreation.”
Science is now affirming the validity of their insights – the healing forces of nature are incredibly powerful. These findings are attracting many potential ambassadors. Because MMLT was founded on the conviction that wildness is a necessity for humans and wildlife they are positioned to partner with Forest Bathing Schools, Outdoor schools, health and social agencies and others who have come to a similar understanding.
The Muir era was inclusive. His friendships included prominent people of science, arts, poetry, philosophy – to the benefit of all. This inclusive interactions suffered somewhat as science became more lab based. The views of John Watson and B. F. Skinner influenced the psychological and animal behaviour sciences – only observable, measurable, recorded behaviour had scientific validity while attempts to explore the inner life of wildlife did not.. The decrease in collaboration with field naturalists is regrettable.
Enos Mills is one example. Considered the John Muir of the East and the father of the Rocky Mountain National Park, he spent years immersed in the Colorado wilderness. Armed with a camera, a vivid curiosity and astute observational skills he observed bears sliding down snowbanks for amusement, bears watching beavers at play and even seemingly enraptured by a sunset. He detailed accounts of grisly intelligence – one backtracking in his steps until he jumped from a cliff into thickets below, temporarily outfoxing Mills. To scientists such claims were rubbish – animals lack the biological capacity to feel or think in ways attributed by Mills.
However science is taking a second look. With advanced technology scientists discovered the brain circuits lighting up in both humans and animals are similar in the presence of varied emotional and thinking states. The intuitive, experiential observations of Darwin, Muir, Mills and others regarding the emotional and intellectual capacity of wildlife are no longer ridiculed as simply anthropological heresies.
This converging symmetry between the intuitive insights based on nature experiences by past and present conservation icons and the recent findings of the scientific community may result in a tidal shift in the way we relate to nature. If the conviction that all life – all creation are subjects to be communed with rather than objects to be manipulated takes hold, a much more powerful ambassadorship for the Wild Kingdom will be created.
This is not New Age, Bambi like fluff. I am thinking of iconic conservationists. Jane Goodall recently stated that in the 1960’s “I was absolutely castigated by the scientific community” because she gave
names, not numbers, to her chimpanzees. Now she and others are noting ritualistic like behaviour in animals. She stated “the most cogent explanation for the dancers reflects “awe”. This is not far from what Enos Mills suggestion that the bear he observed seemed enraptured by a sunset.
Goodall suggested at the World Economic Forum in 2020 “To save the planet’s trees, we should treat them like people.” If we name them we will want to protect them. This reminded me of Julia Hill experience. In her early 20’s, she volunteered to sit a 600 year old, 180 foot tall Redwood destined to be cut. She never dreamed she would live on a 6 by 6 platform high up in the canopy for over two years before her feet would again touch ground. Imagine – experiencing freezing, torrential rain, all alone, often frightened, harassed by loggers who hated her guts, occasionally sick. She too gave the tree a name – Luna. No longer just a wonderful tree – it was named – an individual – a subject. Julia felt crushing sorrow witnessing Luna’s family falling to the ground – toppled by chainsaws. Never named – just objects.
After two years never leaving Luna’s side, she described Luna as “my best friend and teacher.” She had been a waitress then a restaurant manager – her background didn’t matter to the greatest teacher of all – wilderness. This nature based experience propelled her into becoming a powerful ambassador for nature.
I have an intellectual hunger to learn more of the workings of nature. But as Carson said: “It is not half so important to know as to feel.” We need to understand nature intellectually but experiencing nature as a subject is our highest good. If I learned that someone cut down a few trees at cliffLAND I would be upset. If they cut down “Grandfather” the name given by an aboriginal to an old cedar tree I would grieve. I experience this tree as an individual. Grandfather is on my property – I visit him often. He has a name.
In Part 3 of this Trilogy I will share how my perspective has evolved through 40 years of experiencing nature at cliffLAND. I feel more confident in affirming Muir’s conclusion “Nature is the best teacher” – “Wilderness is a necessity”. I believe the highest form of ambassadorship comes from those who have have forged a bond with nature.
CREATING AMBASSADORS FOR THE WILDNESS KINGDOM
By Howard Clifford
MMLT’s future depends on informed, passionate, inspired ambassadors. A quarter century ago Stephen Jay Gould presciently wrote: “We cannot win this battle to save species and environments without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well – for we will not fight to save what we do not love (but only appreciate in some abstract sense).
”Love grows out of relationships – in-depth authentic experiences.
Looking at the lives of conservation icons like Muir, Thoreau, Leopold, Goodall and Carson provides insights as to what is meant. Their lives became stirring messages so
powerful – so inspirational – they motivate us to experience nature for ourselves. Their message is inclusive, grounded in experience, involved heart and intellect and far beyond the grasp of any single discipline. Read More…
I love Einstein’s ability to put things into perspective. “The only source of knowledge is experience” – “Imagination is more important than knowledge” – “Intuition is the father of new knowledge while empiricism is the accumulation of old knowledge” – “Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.”
Thoreau stated “there is no power to see in the eye itself any more than in any other jelly.” “Objects are concealed from us because we do not bring our minds and eyes to bear on them” If you do not empty your mind you will only find what you are looking for. Thoreau looked deeply and his experience led to the astonishing insight “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” This unexpected truth spoke to our hearts and gave us a dream far bigger than ourselves.
Aldo Leopold’s academic background was not predictive of his future legendary status. It was a common experience, the killing of a wolf that inexplicably became an extraordinary experience. Watching the fierce, green light fade from the eyes of the dying wolf became a transcendent moment – something clicked in his brain and he began to “think like a mountain.” This was not science but he saw things through fresh eyes – a way of ecological thinking that affected many. It had the ring of authentic truth.
It wasn’t science alone that made Jane Goodall a conservation icon. She actually turned her back on the credo that only objectivity and detachment could yield uncontaminated truths. She came to know the chimpanzees by name. She saw them as subjects, not objects, and in so doing she came to love them. In so doing she opened our eyes and our hearts to greater truths.
Rachel Carson is a hero to me. What a gifted courageous woman. Her message without her impeccable science would have gone nowhere. But her truths went beyond science. She spoke to our hearts as well as to our intellect when she challenged us to imagine a Silent Spring – a Spring where no birds sang. Who would not weep over such a loss? This spoke truth to our souls. Urging us to make sure children experienced nature wasn’t for educational purposes alone. She wanted us to understand – to really understand “It is not half so important to know as to feel.” What a powerful truth. We knew she was speaking from personal experience, from her intellect and from her heart.
John Muir was friends with Asa Gray, Father of American Botany, Joseph LePlant, renown geologist, Charles Sargent, said to know more about trees than any living person, Louis Agassiz, the prodigious scholar of Earth’s natural history, John Burroughs, the esteemed nature writer, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, considered by many as the most influential American nature philosopher. Emerson honoured Muir by placing his name on his shortlist of the greatest men he had ever met.
Why was it Muir, instead of any of these towering figures, who became perhaps the highest regarded conservationist of all times? The University of Wisconsin provided a great start but what changed history was his immediate enrolment in what he called “The University of Wilderness”. He found “Nature to be the greatest teacher of all” Nature took him beyond what could be taught in academic halls.
He came to believe there was life and sentience in all creation including the rocks. Flowers became friends. Like Leopold, he had a transcendent moment, where he saw every flower being connected to everything else in the universe. However his transcendent moments were more often and more profound than Leopold’s. Some he couldn’t explain nor did he try to. It left him humbly knowing there was much beyond his ability to understand.
When he spoke about the need to save sacred places – wilderness temples, not created by human hands, it was not hyperbole but from heart-felt experience. When he uttered “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” we knew he spoke a profound truth. For who hasn’t at some time experienced a moment of being enraptured in beauty? We can’t explain it, can’t measure it, can’t replicate it but neither can we deny the power of the experience.
It is easy to understand that these nature-based experiences made these icons of conservation such great ambassadors for the Wildness Kingdom. They knew whereof they spoke – they experienced it. They continue to inspire us because our generation has felt the tug of nature sufficiently to know their messages rings true. Deep down in our own souls we know.
Part two of this Trilogy will discuss how many of these nature experienced insights are being confirmed.
The title was inspired by the words of Robert Service: “Have you strung your soul to silence? Then for God’s sake go and do it.” Yes go and do it – experience it – don’t take our soul rendering wilderness majesty for granted until suddenly we find it gone, unretrievable, lost forever.
A visitor from Toronto stood at the top of Blueberry Mountain surveying hill after hill as far as the eye could see – forests dressed by the riotous colours of autumn. “Oh what a blessed spot!” Another said: “I forgot how intoxicating the air can be!” Similar evocative statements are repeated time and time again from city folk experiencing what we have in Lanark Highlands. I accompanied a Swiss couple to the top of Blueberry. They gazed in silence before stating: “How glorious!” I was taken back as they live in the Swiss Alps. “Oh yes the Alps are beautiful, but we would see cars winding their way below us and houses everywhere. This is utterly different.”
Children say it best. I was most touched by the writing of Rayna Critchly who penned A LITTLE RAY OF HEAVEN recounting a visit by the Photography Club of the Sacred Heart School in Lanark..
“While the rest of us were left speechless by the view, a fellow student said: “ A picture can’t begin to show how beautiful it really was! Walking up to the top of the Mountain, a silence filled the air. We were all thinking the same thing when suddenly a one syllable word was heard – “Wow!”
HEAVENLY SIGHTS VANISHED
Ralph Waldo Emerson suggested that if the stars only showed themselves once in a 1000 years, they would be declared a miracle of the ages. Would he not, as should we, be reduced to tears at the news that the world has lost their night skies. A staggering 99% of Americans live under polluted skies and 80% of North Americans live where they can not see the milky way.
I once felt smug when visitors from large cities expressed wonder at the awesome splendour of our night skies. No more. I cannot imagine it – it’s too painful to contemplate the loss I would feel if these sacred sights were taken from me. Remember those evenings when the stars seemed close enough to pluck from the skies? Can you imagine being unable to introduce these heavenly experiences to your grandchildren? Equally heart-wrenching is to know the grandchildren may not care. They cannot mourn what they have never known.
SACRED SILENCE – NO WHERE
There is no place left where silence reigns supreme. Gordon Hempton found only 12 sites in the continental U.S. having intervals of 15 minutes free from man-made noises. Even national parks and protected wilderness average less than five minutes intervals.
This is scary – a threat to our well-being. People moving into cities initially think they will go nuts from the constant bombardment of sound but in a short period of time state they no longer notice it. Science tells another story. Our physiological systems still register the noise to the detriment of our health. What is happening is what researchers term “learned deafness” a protective measure against all the background noise. Our brain works feverishly to block out the sounds we do not need but in so doing develop a state of brain fatique.
I tried unsuccessfully to dispute this nightmarish claim that places of silence, if not already extinct, are endangered. Our family, over a 12 week period, camped in U.S. parks and wilderness areas. We loved the beauty but missed the quiet and solitude we found at home. This trip made me realize how insidiously and quickly the process of nature amnesia overtakes us. Following one typical night when I found that sleep was hard to come by due to the distant sound of highway traffic, one lady said she came here every summer for “the peace and quiet.” We stayed overnight at my cousin’s home and he remarked he was glad they lived in a quiet neighbourhood. Half jokingly I said: “Quiet compared to what, living next to an airport?” He laughed; having visited Flower Station he immediately realized our perception of quiet was of a different order.
I began to wonder if I too was suffering from nature amnesia – just how quiet was home? I visited several protected areas within 150 km west of Ottawa. To my surprise none met the 15 minute test. I had previously been oblivious to the background hum of distant highway traffic. Then, with decibel meter in hand, I spent hours on the trails of cliffLAND carefully recording time intervals free from man-made intrusions. Finally I could say this is a place that met the fifteen minute challenge: a sanctuary of silence. The intervals would have been much longer if not for the occasional, usually muffled, sound of aircraft.
We know silence is important. Humans process natural sounds differently. It has a calming effect, bringing inner peace and serenity and has a remarkable restorative effect.
THE OBVIOUS QUESTION IS: “Why are parts of Lanark Highlands blessed with wilderness, pure air, night skies, and sanctuaries of silence rarely found elsewhere?
Likely dumb luck. Highways 7 and 17 part ways west of Ottawa, one diverting towards Toronto and the other towards Thunder Bay. Lanark Highlands is that lucky space in between – largely untravelled and unknown – a lonely yet precious paradise. It makes us remarkably unique, part of a glorious wilderness concert hall – soul stirring night skies and awesome sanctuaries of silence. Dumb luck – fine! But let us jealously protect and experience the little we have left. In the words of Robert Service: “Then for God’s sake go and do it!”
We have added a new video of Blueberry Mountain, filmed by Kyle Starcher with his aerial drone. Check out his beautiful work! Also new are photographs by Barrie Clifford of various mushrooms found on the property. In order to simplify the viewing of photos in our photo gallery, we have broken down the gallery into several themed galleries. Visit the ABOUT section to see these new additions to the website. Thanks for visiting and for your interest in cliffLAND.
Co-owner, Chad Clifford, was interviewed on Lake 88.1 FM in Perth, Ontario for his role as Sound Technician for the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust’s Soundscaping Initiative. He also runs his own business, Wilderness Rhythms.
Have a listen (please click on the logo or the direct link below):
MMLT is hosting its annual Spring Walk to Blueberry Mountain on May 10, 2015. We take delight and count it a privilege to dedicate this year’s walk to John Muir, considered by many to be the foremost naturalist of the past century. This year marks the 100th anniversary of his death. His life story continues to inspire and he has become the unofficial patron to cliffLAND.
Come and hear some of his stories about how his nature experiences became so internalized into the fabric of his personality that when he spoke many felt he was the voice of nature. Though he was far ahead of his own time, his voice is still in the forefront, calling us to greater aspirations, greater dreams.
You may be surprised how directly he speaks to today`s societal issues and to our individual and personal challenges. The issues may appear very different but at the most fundamental core level of the human condition nothing has changed.
Who of us have never:
- Felt depressed, anxious, had unresolved anger, or feared losing control of our life?
- Felt that our work and personal life entrapped us into a web of artificiality, devoid of authentic purpose or meaning?
- Allowed our fears to interfere with opportunities to follow our dreams?
- Worried that we may come to the end of our days and realize we have never really lived?
- Struggled with conflicts between love of material things and the things that nourish our souls – with living vibrantly in the world without succumbing to it.
- Wondered how to balance preserving the beauty and healing forces of nature and the utilitarian need to use nature`s resources to accommodate an ever growing population.
John Muir faced these issues and more – head on. What makes Muir such a powerful influence was his ability to combine science and his intellectual giftedness with an unsurpassed deep, extended immersion in nature experiences. The synergy between the intellect, the emotional, and spiritual perspectives arising out of these experiences made for a profound authentic voice, rarely encountered.
Blueberry Mountain is located near Flower Station in Lanark Highlands. Click on the link for directions to cliffLAND. Registration is at 9:30 and the Nature Walk starts sharply at 10 am. `John Muir` will appear at 11:15 at the top of Blueberry Mountain, weather permitting. If the weather is not cooperative he will appear in the in-door classroom at 12:15. Bring along your lunch to enjoy in this beautiful spot. Desserts, tea and coffee will be served. The entrance fee is a $10 donation to the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust. Entrance for children under 12 is free. For more information, please contact Howard or Jean Clifford at 613-259-3412.
(submitted by MMLT)
On the morning of November 19, 2014, with Jean and I by his side, Pepi passed peacefully away. Anyone who knew him understood he was an embedded part, heart and soul, into the fibre of the cliffLAND story. He lived his 16 years at cliffLAND and knew it like the back of his hand. Times when I was turned around after bushwacking into remote parts of the property not visited in years, somehow he invariably knew the way home.
Just one month ago I sat alone with him at the top of Blueberry Mountain. He seemed to be enjoying the view as much as myself, seemed at peace, and seemed equally engrossed in thought. I asked him the question I have been so often asked and could never answer. “How many times have you hiked to Blueberry?” There have been times when I was two or three years younger and led as many as three trips a day to the top. Almost always Pepi tagged along. Now, like me, his spirit still longed to do so but his body could not. One thing I know, Pepi and I have made this journey more than any other human. I am convinced he loved it too.
Following his death I couldn’t help but reflect on his life. I recalled Tania making us laugh by relaying the words of a lady at our annual walk: “Why would anyone bring a Chihuahua for such a long hike?” If only she knew the half of it! Except for Newfoundland, Pepi has tented and hiked in every province and in remote areas of the Yukon and N.W.T. He climbed mountains in Alaska, visited Glaciers, hiked parts of the Appalachian trail, hiked and kayaked Walden Pond (of Henry David Thoreau fame), hiked to Grey Owl’s cabin in Manitoba’s Riding Mountain Park, and kayaked to Grey Owl’s cabin in Prince Albert National Park. He visited the haunts of John Muir in California. Probably the most amazing feat was hiking a return distance of 28 km up Mount Robson when he was well into his second decade.
But without a doubt, cliffLAND was his turf. He seemed fearless – not afraid of the dark, thunder, or lightning. He once chased a bear and sent a pair of moose running. Both times swaggering back with the look of “You don’t need to worry about them anymore!” He brought to our attention things we would otherwise missed including the first sighting of a Blanding’s Turtle, a new born porcupine who’s bristles were still soft, snapping turtles and much more.
Always reserved with other people, I was surprised by an event on Blueberry Mountain while performing a John Muir story to an adolescent group. One of the supervisors told me how helpless she felt when she observed a girl, who had recently attempted to take her own life, brought out a knife. Afraid to make a sudden move, she noticed Pepi get up and walk over to the girl and climb on her lap. The girl visibly relaxed, put the knife away, and petted him. I knew he was astute and sensitive but this was a side I hadn’t seen before.
Two days following Pepi’s death, Stan Errett, who has a special place in his heart for Pepi, made a motion that Pepi be made an Honourary Director on the Board of MMLT. He related that Pepi had actually attended board meetings in my shoulder-bag, he had attended al the Nature Walks, and was a wonderful ambassador. The motion was warmly and unanimously passed. I noted I was not the only director fighting back tears. PEPI MUST SURELY BE THE FIRST DOG EVER TO BE SO HONOURED BY A LAND TRUST.
I think Pepi would want me to thank them. He might add: “I loved and guarded this wilderness paradise all of my life – I now must pass on the torch. Please let there be many places like cliffLAND forever protected! Please make it happen!”
His shallow grave within earshot of those climbing to the summit, serves to make this spot even more special to Jean and me – may I say even more sacred. As I laid him gently into his final resting place I was at loss for words. Silently I said – WELL DONE – PEPI – WELL DONE!
Some of the Lanark Wild Food Club visited on Sunday, November 16th, 2014 to collect wild garlic mustard. A tasty pesto was made and sampled.
Last year Dr. Faye Goldman, with five of her Ottawa running friends, ran to the top of Blueberry and I was pleased to learn they were to do it again this year on July 19th. Imagine my surprise when 16 runners and one cyclist arrived. What a jump in numbers. Faye explained, “Yes, my fellow club members were jealous and didn’t want to be left out.”
A half an hour later they returned and were photographed by Tania Marsh. I saw no huffing or puffing. Just look at the photo – a picture of vitality and health, both physically and emotionally! I doubt they felt extraordinary, but I suggest less than 1 percent of any age category could have managed this feat. We know the research literature is exploding with evidence proclaiming the benefits of recreational nature experiences, including improved memory and attention span, increases in front-line immune defenders, and mood enhancement.
Researchers documented runners reporting less fatigue following a run on nature trails compared to a run on an outdoor track. Benefits are not limited to athletes. Kindergarten children playing in a nearby forest had much better motor skill development than their peers who were restricted to a fenced-in play area. The case is being made that nature is crucial to the development of gross motor skills such as agility, coordination, balance, and for nurturing aptitude.
Certainly I appreciate the affirmation provided by researchers, but must say I am partial to first hand experiences. Before all the research, testimonies by credible witnesses touted the healing benefits of nature. John Muir suffered a gas attack while digging a well that almost killed him, and which did leave residual damage to his lungs that plagued him for the rest of his life. Yet there were few, if any, who could keep up with him as he reached the peak of one mountain top after another or on one of his leisurely 50 mile week-end jaunts. When he spent extended time in San Francisco or even in his own orchard, his lung infections worsened as did his emotional state. During these times he went to the healing fountain of mountain and forest air. He thought there was no ailment physical or mental that would not be alleviated by these nature exposures.
His good friend Galen Clark was one of a select group who could keep pace with Muir while they enjoyed many wilderness outings together. Yet when Galen was 42 years of age, his lungs haemorrhaging from Consumption (T.B.), was given days to live. He felt his only hope, albeit a long shot, was to go to Yosemite. Not only did he recover, he discovered the Mariposa Grove, was appointed guardian of Yosemite when it was given park status, and was said by Muir to be the best mountaineer he had ever met. He died at the age of 96.
Perhaps not quite as eloquent as Muir, Clark was equally convinced of the healing powers of nature. He stated: “Nature …exhilarates and thrills through every nervous fibre of the body, and makes the old feel young again. THE BRAIN BREATHES AS WELL AS THE LUNGS.”
I recall Faye saying a similar thing: “A vital part of my running is my mind becomes emptied of all cares and distractions. Unfailingly this void is soon filled with creative thoughts as the forces of inspiration flood my consciousness.”
The parting words of one of the runners: “I see this as an annual event!” May it be so!
I add my testimony. Nothing gives me greater joy, peace of mind, or inspiration than to spend time in the wild. I add my voice to that of Theodore Roosevelt who argued in later years that “parents had a moral obligation to make sure their children didn’t suffer from nature deficiency.”