After a long day or week of meetings, shuffling kids to practice, grocery shopping, and the like, it’s altogether too easy to crash on the couch with the remote in one hand and smartphone in the other. But when we do that, we’re not really giving ourselves a true break. Spending time outdoors in the fresh air is restorative. Focusing our attention on the little things, like a blooming daffodil, a puffy white cloud, or the sound of the wind in the trees, helps clear our minds of mental clutter. Not to mention the physical benefits of going outside, even if it’s a brief walk around the block. So first, read one of these nature-themed books for inspiration, and then go hug a tree!
Losing Eden, opens a new window by Lucy Jones
Why do we feel better after a walk in nature? Why does the natural world exert such a pull on humans? In this blend of memoir and science writing, Jones describes recent data that shows evidence of biological and neurological responses of the human body to exposure to nature. This includes a lowering of cortisol--the stress hormone--and increased parasympathetic nervous system activity, which causes the heart to slow and the body to rest. From her own experience, Jones describes the healing powers of nature that aided her recovery from addiction and depression and renewed her sense of purpose.
The Home Place, opens a new window by J. Drew Lanham
Lanham, an ornithologist and professor of wildlife ecology at Clemson University, describes his childhood in rural South Carolina, home to generations of Lanhams since slavery. Lanham grew up playing among the pine trees and wild turkeys while his parents, both teachers, grew fruits and vegetables to supplement their income. Fascinated by encyclopedias and field guides, Lanham eventually began bird-watching, and came to realize he was a “rare bird” in a pastime where he rarely encountered other African American birdwatchers. There is a dissonance, where Lanham is a Black man in a predominantly white field, and where he finds passion and freedom in the same land where his ancestors were enslaved. Lanham seeks to find his identity among these paradoxical themes, while embracing his love of the natural world and encouraging his readers to do the same.
Two Trees Make a Forest: In Search of My Family's Past Among Taiwan's Mountains and Coasts, opens a new window by Jessica J. Lee
The relationship of ancestry and nature is also explored in Lee’s blend of travelog and memoir. After discovering letters written by her immigrant grandfather, Lee is led to her ancestral homeland of Taiwan in the search for his story and that of the land he knew. In Taiwan, Lee encounters flamecrests, rare birds found only in the Taiwanese mountains; bikes among spoonbills hovering over fish farms; and learns about drift fruits that can float in the ocean for years. While absorbing her surroundings, Lee also notes the parallel narratives of her family’s story and that of the island’s nature. She critically examines the colonialist explorers that mapped the land and named plants, relying on the labor and knowledge of the local communities while simultaneously erasing them as contributors.
Outdoor Kids in an Inside World: Getting Your Family Out of the House and Radically Engaged with Nature, opens a new window by Steven Rinella
How do you get the kids to go outside when the average American spends 90 percent of their time indoors? Not spending time in nature has consequences for us all, and takes a toll on physical and mental health. And for kids, whose minds are still developing, it affects their ability to engage with anything that isn’t man-made. But with the right mindset, Rinella posits families can find meaning and connection through spending time outdoors. He gives practical tips for getting kids excited about nature and seeing their own place in the ecosystem, no matter where they live. This includes camping, growing a garden, fishing, and more, resulting in curiosity about the world, self-sufficiency, and a sense of stewardship toward the natural world.
Go Gently: Actionable Steps to Nurture Yourself and the Planet, opens a new window by Bonnie Wright
Speaking of stewardship, climate activist and actor Wright makes it easier--and less overwhelming--to live with less impact on the planet. Small but sustainable changes are key, such as choosing reusable silicone food storage bags instead of plastic. She explains composting, why shopping for clothes secondhand should be the focus, and using soap bars to avoid plastic bottles. Wright also presents easy household recipes, such as homemade toothpaste and veggie burgers. Interviews with other climate advocates, stunning color photos, and drawings are sprinkled throughout the book to make it even more appealing.
Tracy McPeck is the adult services coordinator at Central Rappahannock Regional Library. This column first appeared in the Free Lance-Star newspaper.