A boy bounces down a bayou with binoculars. “Let’s check Turtle Rock, Mom”, he says, pulling me down the bank to peer expectantly at the cluster of rocks in the middle, scanning for the little turtles that we have been seeing scrambling back into the water at our approach. We hear a different bird call from a nearby tree, and walk over to investigate. We determine it was just a blue jay, making that musical warble that they occasionally make. We marveled over a June bug that was being chased by a line of ants, and then over a life-or-death drama of an earthworm and same ants. We find a cracked egg and then a whole one half-hidden in the bushes near a fence line, and then we have to check on it on the regular during our walks after this.
Such is life out in Shadow Creek Ranch. I’ve been absent from this cyberspace for quite some time due to our house renovations, search for a new house, and the maddening pace of adding a PhD program on top of our already-packed lives. Any free time was being spent studying, learning, writing papers, or packing, unpacking – all the trials of the past year. I very nearly lost my mind. This summer, I have been trying to reclaim it. Part of the healing process needed to be a commitment to spending time in nature.
We felt a little adrift at first in our new house, and decided what we needed was to find all the nature spaces within a short drive from home. The bayou is very literally in our backyard, and a very short drive away is Shadow Creek Nature Park, a place I visit on the regular.
It is a walk in the woods that we want, though. So far, 1776 Park in Friendswood is the closest we have come to the ideal patch of woods. On an afternoon walk a couple of weeks ago, I found myself thinking about terpenes, the aromatic chemicals of plants, and how they affect our bodies (or perhaps the more correct word is “phytoncides”). I was already several degrees calmer just from soaking in the scenery, but the smell of the forest was also lowering my blood pressure surely. Nature therapy – it’s what the doctor (should have) ordered.
In Korea, the idea of the healing power of forests is so convincing that they have created 37 state run forest recreation centers and trained over 500 forest healing instructors. Several countries, including the US, have followed suit and dedicated resources towards forest-as-therapy programs. Most of us intuitively perceive nature is good for us, but now we have science to prove it. In one study, 2 two-hour walks in nature over consecutive days resulted in a 50% increase in natural killer cells, which help prevent cancer and other diseases, in human subjects, compared to those who remained in an urban environment. Those benefits persisted up to thirty days later, where those same cells were seen to still be around 25% increased over the urban-only subjects. The benefits of nature can be obtained in something as simple as watching a video of green spaces or smelling the aromas of the woods.
Some of this information I learned from a podcast (“Hidden Brain”) that another student in my program turned me on to. I am going to try to take this knowledge to heart, as I approach a third semester committed to trying to maintain my sanity this time around. Perhaps I might even find the time to write some of those experiences down, in between assignments.