Let Nature Be Your Healer:

Spending quiet time with plants, water, land and animals can improve your human nature.

Pacific coastal stream flowing through forest.
Pacific coastal stream flowing through forest: Photo Courtesy of Deb Merchant / NaturallyAware

Aging has given me the gift of looking back in time, and learning from what I see in the rear view mirror of life. Every memorable joy, wound, and peak experience that burrowed into my bones over time still percolates in my heart today.

The common theme of all those joyful, painful and mindful experiences is nature. Simply being with nature has given me a lifetime of joy, contentment, lightness of mind and body, mental sharpness, emotional softness, and an eternal gratitude for everything.

Nature has kept me sane, reminded me of my humanity, and made the year 2020 manageable.

Henry David Thoreau lived on the shore of Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts in the mid-19th Century, and in his book “Walden, or, Life in the Woods” he wrote:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Thoreau showed me through his writing that I was not alone in my relationship with nature. Research is showing us today that nature can be our mental, emotional and physical healer. All we have to do is look for it, be aware of its presence no matter where we are, or let nature come visit us. Anecdotally, nature speaks for itself through the people who know firsthand the healing power of being outdoors and experiencing wind, water, ocean waves, trees and flowers, and soft walking trails.

Both science and stories make sense to me because each memory I recall is wrapped up in a hiking trail or forest walk, ski slope or bike path, river wave or clear lake, garden plot or planter full of daisies, mountain-side snow cave, ocean wave or mind-blowing sunset.

Nature feels like a magnet drawing me into the warmth of the sun, onto snow that feels soft on my back as I stare at the Northern Lights, and through the moist air of a forest wetland where frog calls and bird songs fill me up with joy.

Butterfly on tree bark
Butterfly on tree bark: Photo Courtesy of Deb Merchant / NaturallyAware

Butterfly wings, tree bark, and spring greens popping up almost everywhere — even through cracks in the pavement — seem to silently call on me to pause and appreciate them. It’s as if the fragrance of a flower asks me to stop and take in its stunning beauty. Tree leaves wave their brilliant fall colors right in my face as if to say “it’s time to slow down!”

Nature is irresistible. I can’t seem to just walk by without a deep breath, a lingering look, and wondering why I feel such a strong tug at my heart. It’s as if bees, pine cones, birds, pollen, and even mushrooms are speaking to me in a language that I don’t understand. Is there something physically within me that responds to these other languages?

Now is the time to get outside!

Sure, it’s fine to hook up with a friend and go for a non-stop power walk or run at the local nature park, or even go alone while listening to music, podcasts or audio books.

But…what happens when you walk slowly in what seems like silence?

Walking in your own silence gives you the chance to more deeply feel cool air on a hot day, breath deeply the smell of approaching rain, and feel the touch of new spring leaves, brilliant summer blossoms, fallen dry pine needles, lichen-draped branches, and ice-encrusted moss on a forest floor. Yes, reach out and touch these things (but don’t take anything home) and get to know them.

When you take time to touch, to smell and to use all of your senses, you’ll have the opportunity to learn a lot about your own human nature.

Female Hummingbird sitting on nest
Female Hummingbird on nest: Photo Courtesy of Deb Merchant / NaturallyAware

How can you connect deeply with nature?

Slow down and move at nature’s pace. Lose some weight by leaving your phone, watch, earbuds, and even the Fitbit at home. Yes, go lightly upon the Earth for only a short while.

Leave the city for a day, or even an hour, and head toward farms and gardens, forests and grasslands. Walk your neighborhood streets and listen for birds, look for flowers, and touch green leaves. Roam city parks, walk barefoot on the grass, stand under the broad branches of trees in a rain storm, and smell the fresh air that follows. At home listen for the call of coyotes, frogs or crickets in the evening hours, and birds as the sun makes its way into the morning sky. Join a community garden and nature will teach you a lot about how land, water, air and bugs work together to you feed all of humanity.

Wherever you are, slow to a meditative walk and notice each foot step, the soft caress of a gentle breeze on your cheek, quietly falling leaves, and every little animal crossing your path. Nature’s voice is there if you’re willing to listen.

Be curious and ask “who lives here?” Look around to see who shows up.

Rough-sided Knute near forest stream
Rough-skinned newt: Photo Courtesy of Deb Merchant / NaturallyAware

Today, I know that nature is my source of being human. It keeps me physically fit, mentally sane, and joyfully in love with the planet, with my family and friends, and even myself.

If we’re open to the languages of color, fragrance, texture, rain, sun, wind and the call of animals who live outside of our built environment, we can let nature become our healer.

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Dedicated to stories — visual & written — through nonprofit causes that make the Earth, and her human and wild species, healthy, vital and strong.

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Deb Merchant

Deb Merchant

Dedicated to stories — visual & written — through nonprofit causes that make the Earth, and her human and wild species, healthy, vital and strong.

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