By Larry Hamilton | Contributor
Here it is…March—unpredictable weather, mud season, too-short daylight hours for us non-snowbirds who are not in sunny, warm climes. Are you feeling tired, somewhat irritable, stressed out? You may need prescription strength NATURE—a walk in the forest, a hug with a tree. This is a non-harmful, yet addictive medication shown to relieve the crippling symptoms of modern life—and not just for Vermonters. It is recommended anywhere and for all ages and all sexes. It can reduce cynicism, grumpiness, boredom and dissatisfaction with life.
Side effects: may experience spontaneous euphoria, a lift at mouth corners and being in a good mood for no apparent reason.
Caution: may cause you to slow down, look closely at a plant or animal, or see that all tree bark is not the same. If you have trouble being even mildly uncomfortable or worry about looking slightly weird to others (especially if hugging a tree), this may not be for you.
Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers and therefore had to look closely at and give some kind of a name to those elements of their surrounding environment that were good to eat, were toxic or otherwise harmful, or were useful in some other facet of sustaining their lives. These were mostly plants and animals but included potable-water sites and useful rocks or minerals. Perhaps we have inherited some of this hard-wiring in our genes and feel most natural and comfortable when we have contact with nature?
I believe that we feel even more harmonious when we can identify and have some knowledge of some of the natural elements that surround us, in Charlotte or wherever we may be. Yet society’s increasing separation from the natural world is destroying this relationship in favor of purchasable goods with recognizable brands and logos. Shopping in the malls or on the web and surfing the web for “virtual reality” seem to be consumerism’s replacement for learning to be happy in the natural world.
A majority of folks now can recognize immediately eight different brands of snack food and five kinds of salad dressing—but perhaps not more than two species of bird neighbors and two tree species. Nowhere is this situation more evident than in our youth of today. Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, scares this nature-lover and tree warden.
We are fortunate in Charlotte in that there is still a good deal of nature in our environment and opportunity for interaction and learning about soil, water, plants, animals and the valuable services provided by natural ecosystems. Or going out simply to pat or hug a tree, getting some of nature’s prescription Rx for stress relief.
If you are not sure where to go, check out Elizabeth Bassett’s monthly column “Out-Doors” for good suggestions. There is a self-guided Nature Trail at the Charlotte Park and Wildlife Refuge. Much of the Charlotte Trail System goes through forest land. And as a Nature Conservancy trustee, I can recommend four of its nearby nature preserves: Williams Woods, Raven Ridge, La Platte River Marsh and Shelburne Pond—all fine little gems and open to public walking and nature observation and cures.