Sunday, April 02, 2017

Weekly Inspiration: Get Outdoors!

I recently came across this quote about nature while reading a book, and it spoke directly to my heart:
"The best remedy for those who are frightened, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere they can be alone with the sky, nature, and God. For then and only then can you feel that everything is as it should be and that God wants people to be happy amid nature's beauty and simplicity.

As long as this exists, and that should be forever, I know that there will be solace for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances. I firmly believe that nature can bring comfort to all who suffer."

The author and book? Anne Frank in her own diary, published as The Diary of a Young Girl (my review at the link). Isn't it absolutely astounding that that beautiful and inspiring passage was written by a fourteen-year old girl, stuck in hiding in four tiny rooms for two years? In this quote, she is both remembering her favorite times in nature before they went into hiding but is also relishing her little glimpses of nature, through a skylight in the attic where she could see the sky and clouds and treetops. I was blown away by the way that she remained so open, optimistic, and positive during her ordeal, as evidenced in this passage and many others in the book. Since I was often housebound during this recent winter because of swollen and painful feet, I could relate to her frustrations with being stuck inside and was also very inspired by her simple joy in looking out a skylight at the natural world.

I grew up reveling in nature and the outdoors. As a child, my friends and I not only played in our yards like most kids but spent countless hours exploring "the woods," those little bits of wilderness adjacent to our huge suburban development. We rode our bikes along trails, played in creeks, and made up our own adventures while tramping through the fields and woods. Eventually, my family got a pop-up camper and traveled to different campgrounds each weekend, spending our free time outdoors and enjoying hikes, campfires, and sleeping outdoors. When I was a teenager, we traded up to a larger trailer and set it up at our favorite campground, Sugar Creek Glen, where we went every weekend between May and October. I did all the typical teen stuff - including sneaking into the woods with a bottle of forbidden alcohol - but my friends and I didn't hang out at the mall. We spent our days and nights taking long hikes, wading up the Glen to climb waterfalls and swim in icy cold pools, and floating in our inflatable tubes & boats down the creek.

I sort of forgot about the outdoor world when I was in college and in my early 20's. Then, I met my husband in Louisiana, and one of the many things we discovered we had in common was a long history of camping and spending time outdoors. We began camping together (in a tiny tent!), and I was quickly reminded of how important nature was to me. We spent our weekends hiking, canoeing, camping, and eventually, even backpacking. Everyone told us we'd have to give all that up when we had kids, but our sons both went on their first camping trips at just 2-3 months old. They spent their childhoods like I did, playing in the woods, building forts, and exploring the outdoors with their friends. We spent every vacation camping (we soon got our own pop-up camper), often traveling thousands of miles cross-country to visit amazing national and state parks (check out my National Park photo series).
My son's first camping trip - age 8 weeks!

When I got sick 15 years ago, all of this became much more difficult, of course. Backpacking was definitely out, just as we were planning to take our sons on their first trip. Likewise, long hikes were (and still are) impossible. But I learned how to fit nature into my new life, and I learned (again) how important the outdoors was to me. We continued camping in our trailer, and I could usually manage short hikes (with beta blockers and my heart rate monitor, I can now hike up to about 60-90 minutes at a time (at a slow pace, of course). I was thrilled to discover that kayaking (which replaced our old canoe) didn't raise my heart rate much, thanks to the fact that I was sitting (and especially after I started taking beta blockers). Often, we spend time while camping just relaxing, enjoying our books or a campfire. Our cross-country trips to beautiful places continued, and I discovered that this kind of quiet vacation spent in nature, going at our own pace and napping every afternoon, worked for my son and I. You can read my detailed tips for enjoying the outdoors when you are chronically ill here.
Relaxing with a book & campfire at Shenandoah National Park last summer

When I am not well enough to take a walk or be active outdoors, I lie on our deck in a comfy chair. Just hearing the birds and the wind through the trees while I look up at clouds and tree branches is incredibly rejuvenating. It's how I recharge, and I definitely notice when I haven't spent enough time outdoors! On my worst days or when it is too cold to go out on the deck, I do what Anne Frank did - I open our curtains wide and gaze out through the window at the trees and the sky. It always brings a smile to my face. It's amazing how much joy you can find just by paying attention to the clouds.

A rare arm day last week out on my deck
Do you make time for nature in your life? It can be an incredibly effective stress-reducer and bring you unexpected moments of joy, even among sorrow and grief, as it did for Anne.

Tell me how you have been able to include nature in your life and enjoy the outdoors, even with your limitations. And if you've forgotten about the healing power of nature (as I sometimes do), then get outside!

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