Our busy schedules can make it hard to find time to spend in nature, and it may seem especially hard in urban areas. But at a time when so many Americans are struggling with loneliness and isolation, spending a few moments outdoors can help us feel more connected.
Fortunately, there are several easy things you can do to get out in nature, no matter where you live. You can start by sinking your bare feet in a patch of dirt and consider the ways by which the soil nourishes the plants and animals that in turn nourish us. Maybe you can find a tree to befriend, be it a pine, mango or tulip tree. Use all your senses to engage with it — observe its leaves, feel the smooth wrinkles of its bark.
When I lived in New York and Los Angeles, I’d have to hike very far to find a piece of nature to be in — the rare tree in downtown L.A., the canopy of ginkgoes near Inwood Hill Park in New York City. Now, in East Tennessee, I walk a few steps past my porch, into my garden — two small strips of land that flank my two-story white and turquoise farmhouse.
When I first moved here, nonnative European grass blanketed the thirsty clay, red as dried blood. I bought a shovel and set about digging up eight garden beds in the middle of that grass, filling them with plants native to my region: coneflowers and aromatic aster, bee balm and Virginia blue bells. I tried growing squash, peppers, yellow watermelon and white eggplant, but the plants languished and many didn’t yield any fruit at all. My land seems to want nothing but flowers. So I am trying my hand at breeding zinnias, cosmos and dahlias instead. Each bloom, as rich as a jewel, now attracts butterflies and hover flies and bees to feast where there was once nothing but a wasteland.
If I am creatively blocked, I walk barefoot on the earth, no matter the season, allowing stories to feed the roots of my entire body. If I have a plot hole I need to fix, I visit my lemon and lime basil, staining my fingers with their citrus scents. If I need to make my writing more lyrical, I sit with the dahlias, imagining that their vast genetic possibilities fill me when I speak with them.