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.”