We've been spending a lot of time outside lately, or at least, as much time outside as limited daylight allows. The weather has been really mild so far this fall, which is both nice because we can be outdoors without bundling up too much and distressing because it's yet more evidence that global warming is happening alarmingly fast.
A while ago, a friend of mine recommended the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, and last week I finally got around to checking it out from the library. I'm only a few chapters in, but so far I find it fascinating, as well as affirming. I've always thought that it's important to spend a lot of time outside, especially in natural settings. Some of my sharpest memories from childhood are of camping in the mountains when I was about Anya's age, and running loose on my grandparents' and uncles' farm as a school age kid. As it turns out, there's a whole bunch of research that supports the theory that being outside is good for people - especially kids - and promotes physical, emotional and mental health.
On Thanksgiving Day, the temps were up in the 60s, so Stuart and the kids and I spent most of the afternoon on the outskirts of a conservation park in our neighborhood. Daniel and Anya climbed trees, played by an old stone fence, made it into a fort, and rode an ancient seesaw for a good two hours before daylight began to fade and we had to head home. I know how extraordinarily lucky we are to live where we have access to so much natural space; walk five minutes in any direction from our house and you can be in the woods or by a creek bed or even a restored prairie. A month ago we even saw wild turkeys making their way through the neighbors' yard. I wish every child could have this.
I'm lucky enough not to have serious trouble with anxiety, but the last few years I've noticed I feel tense and anxious this time of year, even when there isn't anything specific to worry about. It's probably just the combination of the stress of parenting young children and trying to figure out holiday travel plans and fitting in all the extra accompanying work that usually picks up with the end of the semester and the fact that the sun is barely up in the sky before it goes back down again that makes me worry about every little thing. And every day that everything is fine, I find myself thinking, so what about tomorrow? what if everything isn't fine then? Sometimes I wish I could be like a bear and hibernate until spring. It's totally irrational, I know, but it's there.
Being outside and breathing fresh air, though, is restorative. Whether I'm out on a run or picking my way along the boulders lining a dry creek bed while the kids pretend to set up camp, or even just walking up the hill to get Daniel and his friend to school in the morning, I feel myself calming down just a little bit. And for those few minutes, at least, I am able to put my own miniscule problems and worries into perspective, and I know everything will be all right.