A few weeks ago, as part of a newspaper assignment, I read Florence Williams’ “The Nature Fix” — a task I first undertook because I had to, then quickly came to enjoy.
Drawing on a wealth of research, Williams makes a simple point: Spending time in nature, whether it’s a weekend in the woods or a stroll in a city park, can make us healthier, both physically and emotionally.
Williams is mostly right, I think, although I sometimes found myself tempted to pencil in a few dissents. The Great Outdoors are not, I’m sure even Williams would agree, always a prescription for serenity.
I’ve had sublime moments around a south Louisiana campfire, but I’ve also been awakened before dawn to discover my feet in a puddle of freezing water, the little lake left by a leaking tent in an overnight downpour. I’ve watched brilliant sunsets over groves of pine, but I’ve also shivered in a stiff wind during a December campout and dreamed of the hot shower and warm bed awaiting me back home. If Mother Nature is good for what ails you, it’s also true that you don’t want to overdose on it.
And there are days when what the sky brings to your door can spike your blood pressure, not lower it, as I was reminded when the first heavy storm of spring passed over our neighborhood last weekend. As rain ran down the roof like a river of lead, I could see that the storm drains of the patio had clogged with leaves, the flood high enough to threaten the threshold of the back door. Then the hail started, stones strafing the standing water in a meteorological blitzkrieg.
I slipped on a raincoat and rubber boots and grabbed a rake, clearing the drains until a glorious glug-glug, like the sound of a bathtub stopper yanked free, told me the job was done.
Meanwhile, the garden was fighting a battle of its own. Hailstones had filled up the base of the Sago palm, so that it looked like a champagne bucket awaiting its bottle of bubbly. Hail the size of marbles littered the flowerbed in a layer of diamonds — evil and hard, a bombardment bent on destruction. Through it all, my leggy potato plants stood stalwart, a regiment resolved to weather whatever was thrown at it.
Within an hour, the sun routed the rain, and I counted myself lucky that the kitchen had stayed dry, the skylight had not cracked, and I had not been struck by lightning.
Maybe nature forces you to remember how small you are, yielding its own kind of grace, which is partly what “The Nature Fix” is about. “Without this knowledge,” writes Williams, “we may not ever fully honor our deep, cranial connection to natural landscapes.”
So I will try to follow Williams’ advice and savor the outdoors — until the high heat of summer drives me back inside.
Follow Danny Heitman on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.