Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year, Same Resolutions

By Beth Sullivan
How many of us make more or less the same resolutions every year? I do. Though the path to success (or failure) may be different every year.
Each year, I vow to try and live a healthier life. To be active, eat right, and stick with some kind of exercise effort, preferably outside. I also hope to do good, be kind, and make a difference in some aspect of the bigger life than just my own. These are pretty generic resolutions, and probably a very similar to what most people will try and achieve in the next year.
But I have a little secret weapon that has given me the opportunity to meet these goals. I am a volunteer and most of my efforts are stewardship and outreach for Avalonia.
Same trail, different seasons-

-different ways to enjoy.

Nature's benefits

Being outside contributes so much to the quality of our lives. Just in the last month I have been reading and jotting down notes about the benefits of Nature in as big a dose as you can get.
First of all there is LIGHT. Even on a dark gray day at the Winter Solstice, there is more healthy light outside than there is reflecting from a computer screen. Light is essential for my mental health. A few hours, or even minutes, in the sun can raise my mood. Listening and looking at everything around me just adds to the positive effect. Who can deny that a small brown song sparrow throwing its head back in song can brighten the mood of even the most somber day.
Then there is OXYGEN. Sitting indoors, with the windows closed against the cold, the house or office sealed tight, creates a high Carbon-dioxide atmosphere. Recent studies have determined that high levels of CO2 can dull the brain. Children in most modern classrooms are not only sedentary, but mentally slowed by the atmosphere within them. Open a window, get them out for recess, and move them around in some fresh air for a while. It stimulates their metabolisms, brains, and thought processes. Think about that small office or car with the windows tight, and how often you have the urge to just fall asleep. But open that window or get out for a walk, and it changes the energy. It charges up the brain. Get smart, get outside. You can read more here.
Then there is DIRT. It is also a proven fact that children are healthier if they have been raised exposed to a variety of normal bacteria found in soil of fields, forests, and farms. Gradual exposure to normal organisms will build a stronger immune system and possibly help develop resistance to more harmful germs when encountered. Letting a child play in the dirt, do some gardening (which also teaches kids about good food), climb on rocks, walk in brooks, and dip into ponds goes a long way to both build character and give the child a healthy start. I believe the same is true for adults. You are never too old to play in the dirt, wade in a brook, or try and climb a tree, though it gets a bit harder over the years. Be healthy. All that activity builds muscle and improves your cardio functions.
A change in light can be amazing and inspiring. 

A simple Song Sparrow can brighten a gray day.

Get dirty, muddy even, for your health.

Benefits you provide

But then there is the other resolution: doing good, having a sense of purpose, and changing the world for the better, even if it is only a little bit at a time. That’s where volunteering and stewardship come in.
As a volunteer, you can mostly choose what amount of time you want to give and when you want to give it. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but sometimes you get hooked.
For me, doing stewardship work on Avalonia Preserves has helped me keep most of my New Year’s resolutions for the last several years. Hiking on or off the trails, clearing brush, clearing stone walls, and hacking at invasives are all great exercise. Hacking can be very therapeutic too. Then there is the fun of trying to get over and under obstacles and even climbing an occasional tree that keeps me nimble (or makes me ache).
Light can be really amazing, when you stop to pay attention to it. Every day, every hour the changing light can make the same place look different. It is food for the soul.
Take a deep breath, and over time you can begin to notice the subtle differences in the smell and even quality of the air in different places: ocean side, marsh, forest, or wetlands. All that oxygen makes me feel pretty good too. Of course, I am sure I have ingested more than my fair share of dirt, too. Forest dirt is different than barnyard dirt or marsh mud. Believe me-I am pretty healthy.
At the end of a day, or year, I can feel that I have made a difference, though. it might be small or subtle. I often feel frustrated by the overwhelming issues that confront our Earth, and that little things don’t count, they do.
So my suggestion for a New Year’s resolution is to cover many bases at once by going hiking and getting close to Nature to improve yourself and find ways to make a little difference in the grander plan.
Happy 2018!
Hacking can be very therapeutic and it makes a difference. Photo by Binti Ackley.

Hiking offers many benefits both physical and mental.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise noted.

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