Vitamin N

 

Are you getting enough Nature?

Recently a friend told me that when she visits a natural area, she feels at odds, like she doesn’t know what she is supposed to do. At first I was surprised, but actually, I think a lot of people feel that way. If you didn’t grow up as a “free range child”, playing outside and forming those early, deep connections to the natural world, you might think nature is too strange or complicated, or maybe just plain boring. And, our modern culture doesn’t favor quiet, solitary pursuits like simply being in nature. There isn’t enough adrenaline, competition, or money in it. After all, an afternoon in nature is free and easy, and anyone can do it.

Hardly sounds American.

But, being in nature is extremely good for you. There are all kinds of studies that show that nature relieves stress and improves health, probably in much the same way that meditation does.

The next time you visit a natural area, try approaching it a little differently. Let your focus drift outward. Breathe deeply, focusing on what you see around you. It doesn’t matter if you know anything about the landscape, the habitat or ecology, or plants and animals. Knowledge does not matter. You are part of nature…just observe without trying to understand. Part of the fun is discovering new things, new mysteries.

DDahnChild

 

Walk slowly, or best of all, try sitting still and quiet for a few moments.

Watch. Listen. Notice.

Life is everywhere. Before long, you’re likely to see movements or hear sounds that you hadn’t noticed at first. Shhhh…  do you hear birdsong, insects buzzing, the wind in the trees? Are there scurrying or rustling noises, maybe indistinct shapes moving about in the trees or the underbrush?

If you’re patient, wildlife will probably show up eventually. If they do, stay still and quiet, and watch what they do. Give them plenty of space—it’s important to not scare animals, but it is wonderful to be treated to their presence.

You might be surprised how good it makes you feel.

The world is working, and you are a part of it.

 

DDahnWetland

I did this watercolor illustration for an interpretive sign project for Idaho Power Company.

 

 

 

The Urban Wild-ish

Have you had your Vitamin N today?

Is it just me, or does it seem like nature is getting farther and farther away? The city is more crowded, traffic in neighborhoods moves at freeway speeds, while freeways have become giant parking lots.  Daytime gets gloomier as sunlight is blocked by taller buildings, while at night, the city is lit up like a prison yard with blindingly bright LEDs.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were more natural areas woven into the fabric of cityscapes—nearby places where you could retreat into nature, if only for a few moments?

I did this illustration of May Creek for the City of Renton.

 

In Renton, the city that sits at the south end of Lake Washington, there is a pocket of wildishness—a few acres of woodsy riparian area, called May Creek. It’s surrounded by freeways, condo developments and commercial areas, but when you’re there, all that seems to melt away. The stream is rich with wildlife—when I visited, I saw a deer, woodpeckers and songbirds, bear scat, salmon spawning areas, and places where river otters like to play. The City of Renton and its partners* are doing habitat improvement work there, including trail access and interpretive signs (written, designed and illustrated by me). It’s going to be a wonderful asset for people living nearby.

I wrote, designed and illustrated interpretive signs for the new trail at May Creek.

 

Urban spaces are going to get more crowded and hectic, and we need to get better at making them livable, healthy and pleasant. People, especially children, need nature in their everyday lives. A daily dose of nature, your Vitamin N, can be small, simple and easy. It doesn’t require expeditions into the pristine wilderness—a bit of wildishness will do. The urban wildish should be a priority.

During spawning season, you can watch salmon doing their thing at May Creek.

 

There’s more to the May Creek story. The site has some fascinating and unique history. I’ll tell you more about that in the next post.

 

About May Creek Trail: http://renton.patch.com/articles/city-state-community-leaders-celebrate-port-quendall-infrastructure-completion-may-creek-trail-groundbreaking

 

Renton Parks Info: http://rentonwa.gov/living/default.aspx?id=65


Read more about how people need nature, called “Vitamin N” by Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods” and “The Nature Principle” http://richardlouv.com/blog/Ten-Reasons-Why-Children-and-Adults-Need-Vitamin-N/