By Beth Sullivan
We all have different ways of recognizing spring. Some look at the date on the calendar, but many of us have our own personal spring triggers. We wait for the sound of peepers or wood frogs; we wait until we feel the warmth of the sun. We enjoy the longer days and time to enjoy sunlight at the end of the workday. We wait for the red blossoms on the swamp maples, the first pussy-willows or snowdrops. We look for the first robin or osprey or phoebe. We wait to lose the heavy coats and restrictive layers.
|Exploring at night is all the more exciting. Photograph by Bruce Fellman.|
|Let her have an independent venture into the water.|
But the general theme here is that we are all just bursting to get outside! Lose the coats, get rid of snow boots but dress for mud and fickle weather. The only way to find those flowers or birds and hear those frogs is to GET OUT!
We all know that we just feel so much better when we can get the sun on our faces, stretch the muscles and reacquaint ourselves with the sights and sounds of the Earth. We feel rejuvenated, energized and truly happier. But did you know that there are a number of actual academic studies that have been published that prove these “gut feelings” are actual scientifically-based effects of the exposure to nature.
There are objectively measured effects from the better quality air outdoors, compared to the sealed up classrooms and homes of winter. Too much carbon dioxide can make you sleepy and even stunt mental functions. You can read about it here. Open a window, or better still, get outside where the air is cleaner and more oxygenated and you immediately feel better. Sadly though, there are those with seasonal allergies and this may not always hold true for you.
Then there is sunlight itself, essential for life, photosynthesis, respiration and warmth. Sunlight is the best way for our bodies to create Vitamin D which is essential for the health of our bones. It is a known mood lifter, bio-rhythm regulator, and even if you just sit still in a warm sunny spot outside, you are benefiting. But who sits still when there are all the new spring things to explore? So now we add exercise and cardio into the outdoor equation.
Those of us who were lucky to have had early exposure to open space, water and dirt had the best education of all. We learned so much from our experiences outdoors. We were usually happier outside than in. We ran, we hid, we dammed up little brooks and caught frogs. We learned botany, biology, math and physics. We were content and usually that translated into better appetites, better focus on studies, better sleep at night.
|It's never too early to start exploring.|
|Poking into a pool can be a bit daunting. Using a stick is okay. Photograph by Bruce Fellman.|
Even alone, go outside
Interestingly, not all outside play has to be social. Some of the very best lessons can be learned alone. Learning about yourself and your place in the world, and how to be happy without a big group of friends and gadgets, is probably the best life lesson of all.
You don’t need all the scientific data to make you know how wonderful it is to be outside now. But there's one more study here.
As “my generation” grows up a bit, it is time to make sure the next generations have the same opportunities to learn and explore and be healthy and happy. We may be blessed to even influence the next generation after that. I feel we owe it to them to try and give them the best of our world even when, sadly, we are leaving it dirtier and more broken than when we were kids.
Most of us have children in our lives in some connection. Think of what you can share with a child: your experiences and wisdom and joy in the outdoors. Teach them to listen and smell and enjoy touching even those things deemed “gross” or “dirty”. They will survive. They will thrive. They will be happier and so will you.
|Being alone increases self reliance and creativity.|
|You can learn plenty by joining a kid on an adventure.|
Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.