The Big Epic

Connect with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Connect with Nature (page 3 of 3)

The ABCs of Nature’s Healing

Have you noticed how you feel better in your daily life after spending time outdoors? As we immerse ourselves in the natural world, we become more whole physically, mentally, and emotionally. Plus, the better we know the world around us, the more we enjoy spending time outside. Continue reading to learn about the three different levels of connecting with Nature…

A – Have an ADVENTURE in Nature

“Nature” refers to the outdoors, the natural world, the places not made by humans. Everyone has an emotional response when they hear that word. For some of us, it is a place of comfort or adventure or pleasure. For others, it is a place that is dangerous or boring, a place to avoid. At this level, Nature is something separate from the adventurers, something to be explored or enjoyed in and of itself.

We enjoy extended backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail

So exciting to see wild ponies up close and personal!

B—Use Nature as a BACKDROP for Therapy

There is growing interest in adding nature to traditional counseling or psychotherapy practices. In this case, the natural world is seen as a beneficial alternate setting for client/therapist interactions. There are variations in how this is applied, with names such as Ecopsychotherapy, Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare, and Nature Therapy. Although these activities are set outdoors, the focus is on the therapy itself as it is directed by the specialist. There is acknowledgement of the ways Nature lowers stress but this is merely seen as complementary to the traditional health practices. A few individuals participate in specialized programs that push them to their physical limits to more quickly and radically change their emotional and behavioral choices.

Daughter is proud of the survival skills she has learned–including building a fire

Being in the mountains is a good place to practice meditation and self-calming skills

C—Make a Deep CONNECTION with Nature

There is growing research focused on the therapeutic value of connecting directly with Nature, not merely pursuing beneficial activities in an outdoor setting. Scientists are learning that Nature itself can fill the role of “therapist.” Most of us aren’t comfortable interacting at this level on our own. We aren’t sure what to do or how to build these relationships with the natural world. It can be helpful to have a “Forest Therapy Guide” facilitate a personal connection to our environment by using all of our senses to immerse ourselves in Nature.

Close your eyes and focus on what you feel and hear and smell in the woods

Taste wild fruit; Feel the ferns when making and wearing a “crown”

What’s Next?

Stay tuned! I’ve been accepted into the Forest Therapy Guide training and certification program. In the coming weeks, I will share more about the specific health benefits of immersing oneself in Nature. I can’t wait to tell you more about why this is my “dream job” and how you can help me start this practice in my online and local communities!

Hide and Seek

Everyone expects the beautiful views enjoyed while traveling in the mountains. But how many of us discipline ourselves to focus on the tiny details along the trail? Daughter and I were challenged to search for Nature’s Hearts on our recent backpacking adventure on the Appalachian Trail. (You can see a blog post with photos of our finds HERE.) In that quest for small treasures, we discovered many other camouflaged creatures. Here are a few of our best tips for playing hide and seek with nature:

Look for Movement. The shapes and colors of critters often blend in with the background. Flutters and flickers are an invitation to look closer. More than once we found groups of butterflies gathered in a heap on the ground.

butterflies

Sometimes there will be a burst of movement, then the creature freezes. Patience will pay off when the critter eventually moves again. Or perhaps you will notice the tiny quiver of a lizard breathing.

lizard

Listen for Sounds. Trills and songs might help you find a bird in the underbrush or in the treetops. (These are usually hard to photograph…unless you are carrying a heavy telephoto lens.) Dry leaves crackling or rustling might eventually reveal a snake, or a chipmunk, or a BUG!

centipede

Look for the Wrong Shape or a Different Color. Snails are the same color as the leaves or rocks they hide among. However, their rounded shells stand out against angular backgrounds.

snails

There were many times we noticed bright colored fungus or lichen on trees and rocks. Often, if we looked closer, we would find drab slugs.

lichen, fungi, slug

This is one of my favorite photos from the entire trip. We actually saw a group of deer wandering across the campsite, nibbling at bits of grass. When I walked closer to get a better photo, this young deer put the trees between us, and then froze, hoping I wouldn’t notice him…

deer in trees

Walk in Silence.  I’m sure some of you wonder if we encountered bears. Not this time, although other hikers had problems with Yogi trying to steal food sacks at some of the shelters we had stayed at earlier in our trip. We tend to make noise when we hike: laughing, singing, talking, telling stories. Most animals, including bears, will move away if they realize a human is nearby. So, if you WANT to encounter more critters, move silently through the woods.

(Uses our senses to more deeply connect with Nature is at the heart of Forest Therapy/Forest Bathing. Read more about my new adventures as a Certified Forest Therapy Guide HERE.)

I’m curious. What’s your favorite critter sighting? We would love to hear your hints for finding more tiny treasures in Nature’s game of Hide and Seek.

Outdoor Girl

Please join me in saving our kids. Let’s take them to the woods and let them connect with nature.

Our daughter struggles with severe anxiety issues and other mental health challenges. From a very young age, she was driven to spend extended periods of time outdoors. We have learned that when she gets agitated or argumentative or teary, it’s time to send her outside, no matter what the weather is like. It even helps her think more clearly. Others sometimes question how we could allow our daughter to be outside in pouring rain, or in a snowstorm, or on a crisp, cold night. We know that’s the wrong question. The real question for our family is how could we ever imprison her inside?

Outdoor Girl

All of our children spent the majority of their growing up years being homeschooled. Each one spent some time in public or private school settings, with mixed success. This youngest daughter tried valiantly to survive 6th and 7th grade in the local school. She was even granted an accommodation to be allowed to step outside with an aide or a counselor if she really needed it. But that just wasn’t enough. She melted down numerous times per day, overwhelmed by classroom chaos and expectations, fleeing to the quiet of the office. Obviously, academic progress is difficult when the student is never in class! We brought Daughter back home for school last fall…and she and I spent 6 weeks backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. (I’ve written other posts about homeschooling on the trail HERE and HERE.)

Counter to prevailing wisdom, Daughter and I did not take overnight backpacking trips prior to leaving on our adventure. I was afraid that if she was uncomfortable or became anxious about the trip, she would melt down and refuse to give it a try. It seemed to be a better option for us to do some outdoors walking in local parks, then get to the AT and hike “for real.” I knew hubby would come rescue us if needed, although we didn’t mention that to daughter. She focused on the itinerary for each day and made the decisions of when to stop for snacks and lunch. Having that level of control was helpful for her staying motivated to keep hiking.

After debilitating anxiety attacks 2-3 times per day during the school year, and 2-3 times per week during the freedom of summer, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect while we were backpacking. I was amazed that during our time on the trail, Daughter was generally calm, even-tempered and cheerful. She took pride in being equal to adults in skill, performing camp chores, and taking responsibility for herself. Yes, she had some grumpy, exhausted, teary moments…but so did I! In the 6+ weeks we were hiking, she only had one (count ‘em, ONE) anxiety attack. And after a stop for water, a snack, and belting out a favorite song, she was able to calm herself back down. The only time she struggled with maintaining her composure was when we were in the chaos of towns for resupply.

Outdoor Girl Child

We KNOW time outdoors is both helpful and healing for our daughter. She thinks more clearly and can focus more effectively on current tasks when she is in nature. We joke that we need to find a cabin in the woods to move to…even though that isn’t really feasible right now. So, she and I try to regularly walk in nearby parks, she spends hours on her scooter, and we are starting to count down the time til we head back to the Appalachian Trail for another long distance hike late this spring.

This winter, I was fascinated to discover that there is an entire branch of science focused on this link between nature and human well-being, called “eco-psychology” or “eco-therapy.” Here are a few links to interesting articles about the benefits of hiking, being in nature, and connecting children to nature:

Your Brain When You Walk in the Woods

Hiking Is Good for Your Mental Health

Less Outdoor Play Is Causing More Harm Than Good

Letting My Autistic Son Go Where the Wild Things Are

If you would like to read an entire book on this topic, this one is a classic: Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. It is available on Amazon HERE.

Last Child in the Woods

(Doing research about the healing power of connection with nature eventually led me to becoming a certified guide for Forest Therapy/Forest Bathing. Read about my new passion HERE.)

Child in the Woods

“God has given me this child…and she is in God’s hands!”

I have had many folks question how we could consider taking our young teen on a long distance, multi-week backpacking trip. Although I usually just smile and make some inane comment about how much she enjoyed the trip, my thoughts scream out “I had no other choice! This is exactly what she NEEDED!”

We have tended to be “outside-the-box” parents, homeschooling our kids, letting them explore interests, and helping them pursue passions. This one, our youngest, has extra challenges. She is very smart and learns some things quickly. At the same time, most “book-learning” takes extraordinary amounts of work. She craves social contact, but lacks many of the skills needed to be successful in building relationships with peers. She is often at the center of a hurricane of emotions, made more unbearable and unmanageable with extreme anxiety. Life sometimes feels like a never-ending series of appointments with therapists and doctors to find the help she needs to manage daily living. That’s no way to feel strong and successful in life…

child in the woods

Then we decided that she and I would spend a few months backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. As journaled here on this blog, I researched, planned, bought gear, and off we went. Along the way, we discovered that this is exactly what she needs! Being in nature brought anxiety and emotions to manageable levels. We could walk peacefully through most days. She enjoyed the social contacts along the way, with little of the stress that debilitates her in town.

Folks questioned how we could make her take this trip, focused on the physical dangers. We now realize that she and I will take many more adventures along the AT, focused on the personal healing that comes when this child is in the woods…

(Read another post about my Outdoor Girl HERE.)

It’s a ZOO Out Here!

Spiders and snakes and bears, oh my! We have seen these critters and a whole lot more…

We frequently make too much noise to see many critters while backpacking: boots tramp, fallen leaves crunch, poles skitter on rocks. In addition, we often talk or sing while we are hiking. Most forest-dwellers are shy and prefer to avoid contact with humans. Even when we notice them, critters often move too quickly or are too well camouflaged to capture in a photo.

Spiderwebs are the most common sight along the trail. The variety of architecture is surprising. Walking into invisible threads across the trail is irritating; but large webs lit up by the sun are beautiful. Usually the spiders are tiny but some are quite magnificent!

Spiders

Other insects (which tend to ignore humans) are also common sights. There are plenty of beetles and stinkbugs. Our favorites were a fantasy-land of caterpillars. When we get home we hope to figure out what kinds of butterflies or moths these colorful creatures will become.

Caterpillars

Yes, we have seen snakes (all harmless, thankfully). This slender green one fell out of a tree, landed near daughter’s feet, and paused long enough for a photo before sliding away. A number of large black snakes slithered across the trail in front of us, most as eager to stay away from us as we were eager to avoid them.  (True confessions: each time we saw a fast moving black snake, the person in front jumped and squealed. We felt silly but just couldn’t help it!) 

Snakes

We saw a number of deer along the trail. They are especially tame in Shenandoah National Park where they have learned that even the dogs (which must be leashed) are harmless. Although many hikers encountered black bear on the trail itself, we only saw this one young bear near a shelter.

Mammals

And the ones who got away? We saw tiny lizards and a reddish orange salamander. We watched chipmunks skitter away, even climbing a foot or two up tree trunks before disappearing into underbrush. We were scolded by squirrels and croaked at by crows. One evening, I watched a grey fox trot past, pausing only long enough to stare at me for a long moment before continuing on his way.

These woods are certainly not empty. I wonder what the silent watchers think when they see and hear us blunder by?!

(Read about other critter sightings HERE. And don’t miss true confessions about screeching HERE!)

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