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Explore Nearby Nature

04/01/2016 17:32 ● Published by Sandy Kauten

Ever have one of those days when you feel like the world around you is just simply TOO LOUD? One of those days that starts with an alarm or a crying child, moves on to a barking dog or a grumpy boss, and ends with someone shouting on the evening news, right when your first grader walks into the room? Days when stress, anger, and fear overwhelm just about everything else you’re feeling? You’ve probably been there and you know how it feels – not good.   

We all experience days like this, not necessarily with the same sound blasters to blame, but stressful, loud days all the same. So what’s a noise-weary parent or caretaker to do when you really need a dose of quiet down time?  

It’s amazing how quickly a simple walk in nearby nature – through an in-town park or along tree-lined street – will clear your mind, brighten your day, and calm your nerves. According to current research, spending time in nature can dramatically reduce all those unpleasant feelings you are having on those particularly LOUD days. And yes, according to the American Heart Association, even a moderately brisk walk five times a week for just 30 minutes a day can help keep your heart and lungs healthy. And about that troublesome noise? It’s amazing how different the world sounds when you venture outside, especially in the spring. No, nature isn’t quiet, but its voices rarely rattle. From birdcall to rainsong, nature is awash in sounds that sooth.

So what might you expect to hear outside this spring? If you’re walking in the morning, you will probably hear birds of all sorts – perhaps the clear whistle of a varied thrush or the chatter of chickadees in the trees. In almost any neighborhood, you’ll hear squirrels talking as they leap from limb to limb. Along the pleasantly ripple-tumbling Willamette River, you might hear an osprey cry out overhead. In the evening, near wetlands, Pacific treefrogs chorus. Rain and wind are almost daily melody-makers in the spring, as they pour down upon and rush past obstacles both human and nature-made. And even though you rarely see the streams that once flowed freely from our ridgelines, you often hear them as water-rush in the storm drains that flow beneath our roads.

As an added bonus, if you walk with your child, calmly, side by side, you might learn a bit about a school worry or a friend problem that you wouldn’t have known about otherwise. And if you’re on your own, you might solve a problem that has been haunting you, have a great idea for a story to write, or think of a new way to handle a parenting or work challenge. According to a Stanford University study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, walking does indeed boost creativity and open up the “free flow of ideas.” That ah-ha moment may be waiting for you just around the corner! At the very least, you’ll get some exercise, fresh air, and a little peace and quiet, all things that you no doubt can use more of in your daily life.

So, where should you go? It really doesn’t matter, as long as your walk leads you along a route where you might hear at least a few loud-noise-negating natural sounds. We are incredibly fortunate in Eugene-Springfield to have all sorts of parks and walking paths nearby, so there is sure to be one somewhere near your neighborhood or workplace, or a short walk, bus, or bike ride away. A few ideas include Alton Baker and Skinner Butte Parks in the center of our community; Willow Creek Natural Area and the West Eugene Wetlands to the far west; Delta Ponds and Golden Gardens in north Eugene; Amazon, Morse Ranch, and Hendricks Parks in south Eugene; and Island Park, Harvest Landing, Clearwater Park, and Lively Park in Springfield. The bike paths along the Willamette River in Eugene and the Middle Fork Willamette in Springfield, as well as the Ridgeline Trail are also wonderful places to walk. To find these parks on a map, see eugene-or.gov/327/Parks-and-Natural-Areas for Eugene or willamalane.org/parks for Springfield.                    

Finally, remember, kids can also get overwhelmed by the noise and clamor of everyday life. If you want yours to spend some time walking in and listening to nature this summer, make sure to enroll them in outdoor summer daycamps. Nearby Nature, as well as well as several other local nature education non-profits and recreation agencies offer camps that include lots of outdoor time in their daily agendas. Check out Nearby Nature's offerings at nearbynature.org/programs/daycamps.

Beth Stein is the Executive Director for Nearby Nature, a non-profit education group dedicated to fostering appreciation of nature nearby and providing tools for ecological living. The group hosts summer daycamps in local parks as well as school programs, special events, and restoration projects. For more information, call 541-687-9699 or see www.nearbynature.org.

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