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“Climate change will increase the risks and hazards facing urban populations in numerous ways, from increasing heat waves to more intense rainfall to rising sea levels. For some of these risks, trees and other natural features can be a way to reduce the threat, in effect serving as part of the climate adaptation strategy of the city.”

~ The Nature Conservancy, 2017

Strife today seems to be rampant. While we can laugh at the hilarious meme or YouTube video of the crazy things that are going on in the world, much of it is horribly depressing. Hurricanes, floods, wildfires, mass shootings, political demonstrations, threats against women’s health, Medicaid, kids food programs, and recognition of widespread bigotry and sexual abuse, not to mention looming nuclear war. It’s no wonder I awaken at 3:30 am with my mind in turmoil. The bad things keep playing over and over in my head. And, I know I’m not alone in my fears.

There is some hope, I believe. An article in the Atlantic notes,

A group of researchers from Stanford University thought the nature effect might have something to do with reducing rumination, or as they describe it, “a maladaptive pattern of self-referential thought that is associated with heightened risk for depression and other mental illnesses.” Rumination is what happens when you get really sad, and you can’t stop thinking about your glumness and what’s causing it: the breakup, the layoff, that biting remark.”

They found that a nature walk could reduce rumination in mentally healthy people and looked into the physiological explanation for it.

That study mirrors other studies on the physical and mental benefits of walking in nature. Walking or just being in natural settings has long been observed to be restorative, and more modern studies have confirmed the results. Some of my earlier posts have explored these results, including the benefits of “forest bathing.”

The Nature Conservancy has also released a study on the more direct benefits of trees in urban areas.

A study in California by U.S. Forest Service and University of California, Davis researchers found that for every $1 spent in California cities on tree planting and maintenance, there were $5.82 in benefits. Another study looked at five cities across the U.S. (Fort Collins, Colorado; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Bismarck, North Dakota; Berkeley, California; and Glendale, Arizona), and found that for each dollar invested in tree planting and maintenance, annual benefits returned ranged from $1.37 to $3.09.”

These “ecosystem services” offset maintenance and health costs of air pollution, heat extremes, water quality and quantity, and aesthetics. For cash-strapped local governments, investing in trees is a pretty safe bet. With more and more people being added to our urban areas daily, living among trees and nature will help to manage both the physical and mental stresses of urban life.

Robert Macfarlane noted,

These are the consequences of the old ways with which I feel easiest: walking as enabling sight and thought rather than encouraging retreat and escape; paths as offering not only means of traversing space, but also ways of feeling, being and knowing.”

In other words, walking in nature combats the negative effects of rumination. He also notes the long-term effects of nature,

We tend to think of landscapes as affecting us most strongly when we are in them or on them, when they offer us the primary sensations of touch and sight. But there are also the landscapes we bear with us in absentia, those places that live on in memory long after they have withdrawn in actuality, and such places – retreated to most often when we are most remote from them – are among the most important landscapes we possess.”

One way I can calm myself during wakeful nights is to think of trails I’ve walked and landscapes I’ve experienced — rambles in the woods or fields, being a part of a stunning desert or mountain vista, playing in lakes and streams, or just sitting in the sun or rain.

But at night my fears still creep in. Climate change deniers, the undoing of sensible environmental protection policies, placing profit over health are all runimations that bedevil me. I hold out hope for the simple things we all can do to make things better — certainly making our opinions heard, voting and putting our money where our allegiances lie.

And, planting trees. As the Nature Conservancy stated, “If trees were important before, they will be even more important in a climate-altered world.” We need nature to sooth our troubled souls.

And remember, don’t ruminate — perambulate!

Additional Information:

Olga Khazan, How Walking in Nature Prevents Depression: A Study Finds that Wild Environments Boost Well-Being by Reducing Obsessive, Negative Thoughts, The Atlantic, June 30, 2015

Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways

The Nature Conservancy, Funding Trees for Health, An Analysis of Finance and Policy Actions to Enable Tree Planting for Public Health, 2017

Steve Tarlton, Tree People, Writes of Nature, August 24, 2017

Steve Tarlton, Taking a Bath, Writes of Nature, April 13, 2017

Steve Tarlton, More Lovely Than a Poem, Writes of Nature, January 5, 2017

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