Good Natured

As I sat on a bench overlooking Clear Creek, the noise from the nearby highway was discernible, but not too intrusive. I could hear the creek below me and the kid noises from the playground across the creek. Broken sunlight through the clouds, light wind; I felt stress drain away and my batteries recharge.

It may be poorly understood, but there seems to be more and more science confirming that exposure to natural things improves our health and mental well being. The Japanese have a word, “forest bathing,” for exposing yourself to the forest air that contains beneficial bacteria, plant-derived essential oils and negatively-charged ions.

Humans seethe with bacteria and other organisms that collect and grow throughout our lives. Most are beneficial, helping to fight off disease, digest our foods and manage our lives. Years ago, I was told that the humans contain many more bacteria than any other creature – in essence we were more likely to contaminate the environment than be contaminated by it. Bitten by a rattlesnake, I was told, it was more likely that the rattlesnake would die from our germs before we died from its poison. (There was no data on rattlesnake death by bludgeon following a bite.)

Diverse ecosystems are thought to provide a diverse microbial community that helps our bodies respond to a variety of threats. In addition, it is thought that the interaction of our microbes with essential oils and negative ions strengthens our microbial community; therefore exposure to diverse ecosystems is fundamental to our health.

Studies of “nature-relatedness” (biophilia) continue to try to parse out the specific factors that make being in nature beneficial; however, there seems to be no question that exposure to nature is good for us in most conditions. We intuitively feel better outdoors; we seek oceans, lakes and burbling brooks to calm our minds and rejuvenate our bodies and souls. Poets and philosophers extol the virtues of nature, and our very language is replete with words for nature that reflect peace and well-being.

Indoor plants help clear the air of the accumulated exhalations of the occupants, and enhance the oxygen. Office plants also provide relief from stress and generally improve the office morale.

We find nature to be magnificent and grand, and we seek and find nature wherever we go. We relish the views of the Grand Canyon or Galapagos Islands, but enjoy tiny butterflies and the scent of honeysuckle. We feed the birds, tolerate the squirrels, and pull the weeds in our gardens and yards. We play in the fallen leaves, splash in the rain puddles, listen to our wind chimes, and tame wild creatures for our companions.

I once sat with a circle of birders and we were asked to identify our favorite Colorado bird. Several people noted peregrine falcons, mountain bluebirds, spotted towhee, and lazuli buntings, among others. I had to think a minute, but concluded that my favorite was the Canada goose. It got a few titters, and a scowl or two from the more ardent bird enthusiasts, but I believe for sheer majesty, nothing outdoes these geese.

I like eagles and even the raptors that I’m never able to identify, and find owls to be mysterious and somewhat menacing. I enjoy watching all the LBB’s (little brown birds) at our feeder, along with all the others I can identify — flickers, chickadees, occasional grosbeaks and goldfinches. There’s a downy woodpecker that is a special treat to watch and often a nuthatch whose agility and gravity-defying acrobatics are amazing.

But to me, geese are awesome when they fly and approachable when on the ground. However, they aren’t all that impressed with me, often ignoring me when I pass them in the park. Their stately stroll down the path or across a lawn seems aristocratic, and they carefully herd their goslings out of harms way when threatened. In the air, they soar and glide in formation and sometimes condense in swirls of apparent chaos, swooping down onto a field or body of water. They will sometimes leave me a gift, a token of thanks for my appreciation, in the form of a wing or tail feather.

From where I sat on the bench, it started with one or two mournful honks, then grew to a loud cacophony as the geese meandered up the creek and circled overhead. Smaller groups began to join into one large flock, dropping into and out of the bright sunshine as they changed elevation, each loudly announcing their arrival and being welcomed with answering calls.

As the flock above me grew, they circled wider and then slowly dropped in waves onto the fields behind my bench. I could see the individual feathers ruffling on the silent wings set wide for landing. Necks outstretched, the geese eyed me suspiciously as they approached, then ignored me as presenting no great threat.

Though beyond my eyesight, I could hear them chatter among themselves as they grazed the field. Occasionally, loud honks announced the arrival or the departure of more groups. It was very much like cocktail parties I have attended, and I had no trouble envisioning the glad-handing, gossiping and general merry-making that was taking place.

From my bench, I could see a line of nearly identical bird nests strung out in the trees along the creek. One lone bird perched at the very top of one of the trees, catching just a few rays of sunlight and singing his joy. Maybe it wasn’t his joy that he sang. It could have been mine.

Further reading: “Why a walk in the woods really does help your body and your soul,” February 1, 2016 by Jeffrey Craig And Susan L. Prescott, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, The Conversation, MedicalXpress.com

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