Last week, when the rain stopped for a few days and the long-hidden sun reappeared, I decided that I couldn’t afford to let spring pass me by. I had to get outside and out of town, even if only a few miles out of town. I had to experience nature. After reading, “How Nature Can Make You Kinder, Happier and More Creative,” from Greater Good, I now know why. According to writer Jill Suttie, “Scientists are beginning to find evidence that being in nature has a profound impact on our brains and our behavior.”
According to research still in its infancy, subjects who hiked or walked in a natural setting — with trees, grass, flowers, birds, and sometimes mountains — experienced less stress, saw an increase in creativity, helped their brain’s prefrontal cortices rest, had fewer negative self-thoughts, were able to enter into a meditative state, were happier and enjoyed increased energy levels.
On Saturday, we drove to Rattlesnake Lake near North Bend, WA, to conduct our own research. (For those curious about the origins of the lake’s name, according to one legend, a surveyor heard the rattle of seed pods in the area and thought he was hearing snakes. He didn’t know that rattlesnakes live only in the central and eastern parts of the state.)
This year’s record-setting rain had re-filled the lake, which last fall looked like a tree stump farm instead of a body of water. We walked along the lake for a mile and a half, experiencing much of what the research supported. What could be better than an easy trail, sun on our backs, shimmering blue waters, a bald eagle overhead, and purple butterflies floating by? When we arrived at the lake beachfront we admired the deep water, now mostly free of stumps. We didn’t have time to trek from the lake to Rattlesnake Ridge — a steep hike– but decided to walk to the trail head, where last September we had accompanied the sister and brother-in-law of a deceased friend, to strew her ashes.
As we left the beach area, suddenly we were not on a peaceful hike. Throngs, not just a few dozen but a few hundred people, joined us on the trail. We found ourselves dodging a football flying over our heads, crawling through the human traffic at the same rate as a car in rush hour, and trying to escape from a blaring boombox strapped to one guy’s shoulder. So much for meditation, relaxation and creativity. We did experience an increase in energy levels as we fled the scene of the crime, this one against nature.