Pullquote: American and British children today spend half as much time outdoors as their parents did.
It’s always a pleasure to see people being honored for contributions to their communities. Never is this truer than when it comes to those people working to create, grow, and preserve our green spaces in and around town. Their contributions can be felt, shared, and appreciated by every single member of a community, and are very long-lived. So, when the Osborn Foundation recently held a luncheon to honor three women and present them with the Miriam A. Osborn Foundress award – with an event aptly called “Women Who Make a Difference” –, I was delighted to hear that the honorees were selected based on their professional and volunteer work in the areas of wellness and nature conservancy. I was even more delighted to learn that Rye’s very own Angel Morris was one of the honorees! Angel has contributed in ways big (as president of the Rye Garden Club and Rye Nature Center), and small (countless) to the living, green beauty of our town.
But before you think that such contributions are only about beautifying our town, I need to share with you what the event speaker, Florence Williams, shared with the attendees. Williams traveled the world to explore the impact that spending time in nature has on our health and well-being, and then wrote about it in a book entitled “The Nature Fix, Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative. In short, she tells us this: spending time in nature isn’t a luxury, it’s part of who we are and what we need to remain functioning, happy individuals. In fact, we are hard-wired to be happiest when outside.
Williams shared countless scientific case studies across different cultures to underscore the amazing fact that spending time in nature has been shown to increase well-being, improve cognition, dramatically reduce levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), reduce blood pressure, narrow the income-related mental health divide, alleviate symptoms of PTSD, boost self-esteem and confidence in children (and especially in girls), increase empathy, and make us more likely to engage with the world and each other, among many other things. Of course, you have to keep returning to nature to enjoy these effects over the long term, but as little as five hours a month (30-40 minutes twice weekly) should do it.
This may seem like a difficult goal to meet, but Williams shows us that it’s not; you don’t have to go the Yosemite National Park to experience these benefits. In fact, science supports the notion that all nature counts toward this total – time spent gazing up at the canopy of a large tree in your garden or a walk through a city park. Of course, we denizens of Rye don’t have to settle for that. We’ve got much larger-scale nature within walking distance. Rye Nature Center, Edith Read Sanctuary, and the Marshlands Conservancy allow us to access nature and feel completely immersed in it as we walk through the woods.
All of this science is particularly important because we are in the midst of what Williams calls “the largest migration in history”…to the indoors. She shares with us alarming statistics about how little time we spend in nature today, and how much time is spent, instead, on screens or in highly structed activities. For example, American and British children today spend half as much time outdoors as their parents did.
When I look around a town even as idyllic as ours, the statistics ring true. But we can change that, and, given where we live, we can change it tomorrow. So, let’s walk through our wooded areas, let’s support their volunteer days, and let’s say a silent thank you to all of the Angels out there that work tirelessly to conserve these places for all of us to enjoy.
— Rye Garden Club Conservation Committee