We sat on our back porch as evening nibbled at the remaining daylight. Across the pond, a full moon rose above a proud line of aged fir trees, its face a milky dime amidst a sky turning pink from the setting sun. A bullfrog we have affectionately named Herman croaked his approval of the coming night, while distant explosions marked the efforts of a patriotic citizen blowing through the last of their fourth of July fireworks.
After a long, wet winter and spring, summer has arrived. Not coincidentally, July saw us bursting through our doors, leaving the shelter of home for the fresh air and sunshine waiting outside. Excited crowds lined our streets for holiday parades. Parks filled up with children and families at play. Whether gathered around backyard barbecues or crowding onto our local beaches, the KP has been getting outside.
Being outside is, in many ways, like being home, for we are a part of this beautiful creation. The Genesis narrative speaks of man and woman being formed out of the dust of the Earth. Scientists and songwriters reflect on this same reality; both Carl Sagan and Joni Mitchell remind us we are made of stardust. Indigenous traditions tell us that human life is intimately tied to the land upon which we live.
As we sat on our porch, watching the moon rise while stars began to twinkle in the evening sky, NASA’s James Webb telescope was beaming back its first images of deep space and time. These stunning images reveal distant planets in our own celestial neighborhood and countless galaxies from the dawn of time. They make our lives seem insignificant in comparison to the vastness of the universe, and yet I was struck with wonder at the fact that we are all a part of this. We belong here.
One of the unexpected blessings of the pandemic is that it got us outside. Because of the risk of gathering in enclosed spaces, people moved out into the natural world. Churches worshipped in fields and parking lots. Our local HOA held its meetings in a park. Friends and families met on porches and backyards. Golf courses and nature trails filled with people seeking to be together in a safer way. Many people discovered a whole world away from the confines of offices, board rooms and entertainment centers.
This is all a very good thing. Human beings have lived the majority of our existence within and among the natural world. We have evolved and adapted to thrive in nature. Many of the factors of our modern society make our lives more convenient but take a physical and emotional toll on our wellbeing.
I recently read a collection of studies on the practice of forest bathing, first developed in Japan but now being practiced worldwide. Forest bathing is the act of spending time in the quiet of trees, slowly walking or sitting in one place, meditating, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of nature. The results of these studies were stunning. They included lowered blood pressure, lower stress levels, and relief from anxiety, depression, fatigue and confusion.
The authors suggested that similar results would be experienced by spending time by the ocean, rivers or grasslands as well. This is a simple but profound fact: Spending time in nature is good for us.
Here, then, is my modest proposal: Get outside while summer remains. We are fortunate to live on a peninsula that offers a multitude of opportunities, from wooded hiking trails to waterside parks. Towering mountains and ocean beaches are a short drive away. Our rural skies are perfect for stargazing on cloudless nights. Our cold spring even mitigated much of our resident mosquito population. We really have no excuse.
We as a people are experiencing confusing, anxious times. People are angry and edgy. The future is uncertain. In this time and place, we need everybody at their best. We need you healthy, strong and settled. One of the simplest, best ways to achieve this is spending time outside, in the trees, by the water, under the open sky. Fall and winter will be here soon enough, but for now the beauty of nature is calling. I’m getting out to enjoy it while I can. Won’t you join me?
Award-winning columnist Dan Whitmarsh is pastor at Lakebay Community Church.
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