BY TRACY MCPECK FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR
After a long day or week of meetings, moving the kids around for work out, grocery shopping, etc., it’s all too easy to crash into the couch with the remote in one hand and the smartphone in the other. But when you do that, you don’t really give yourself a real break. Spending time outdoors in the fresh air is restorative. Focusing our attention on small things, like a blooming daffodil, a puffy white cloud, or the sound of the wind in the trees, helps clear our mind of mental clutter. Not to mention the physical benefits of getting outside, even if it’s a brief walk around the block. So first read one of these nature-themed books for inspiration, then go hug a tree!
“Losing Eden: Our basic need for the natural world and its ability to heal body and soul” by Lucy Jones
Why do we feel better after a walk in nature? Why does the natural world exert such an attraction on humans? In this mix of memoir and scientific writing, Jones describes recent data that shows evidence of biological and neurological responses of the human body to exposure to nature. This includes a decrease in cortisol, the stress hormone, and increased activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows the heart and rests the body. From her own experience, Jones describes the healing powers of nature that helped her recover from addiction and depression and renewed her sense of purpose.
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“The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair With Nature” by J. Drew Lanham
Lanham, an ornithologist and professor of wildlife ecology at Clemson University, describes his childhood in rural South Carolina, home to generations of Lanhams since slavery. Lanham grew up playing among pines and wild turkeys while her parents, both teachers, grew fruits and vegetables to supplement their income. Fascinated by encyclopedias and field guides, Lanham eventually took up birdwatching and realized he was a “rare bird” in a hobby where he rarely encountered other African American birders. There is a dissonance, where Lanham is a black man in a predominantly white domain, and where he finds passion and freedom in the same country where his ancestors were enslaved. Lanham seeks to find her identity among these paradoxical themes, while embracing her love of the natural world and encouraging her readers to do the same.
“Two Trees Make a Forest: Searching for My Family’s Past Among the Mountains and Coasts of Taiwan” by Jessica J. Lee
The relationship between ancestry and nature is also explored in Lee’s blend of travelogue and memoir. After discovering letters written by her immigrant grandfather, Lee is driven to her ancestral homeland of Taiwan in search of her history and that of the land he knew. In Taiwan, Lee encounters crests of fire, rare birds only found in Taiwan’s mountains, bicycles among spoonbills hovering above fish farms, and discovers the drifting fruits that can float in the air. ocean for years. While absorbing his surroundings, Lee also notes the parallel narratives of his family’s history and that of the nature of the island. She critically examines the colonial explorers who mapped the land and named the plants, drawing on the labor and knowledge of local communities while simultaneously erasing them as contributors.
“Outdoor Children in an Indoor World: Take Your Family Out of the Home and Radically Engage with Nature” by Steven Rinella
How do you get kids outside when the average American spends 90% of their time indoors? Not spending time in nature has consequences for all of us and damages physical and mental health. And for children, whose minds are still developing, it affects their ability to engage in anything that is not man-made. But with the right mindset, Rinella says, families can find meaning and connection by spending time outdoors. It gives practical tips for getting kids interested in nature and seeing their own place in the ecosystem, no matter where they live. This includes camping, growing a garden, fishing, etc., resulting in curiosity about the world, self-sufficiency, and a sense of stewardship over the natural world.
“Take it easy: concrete steps to take care of yourself and the planet” by Bonnie Wright. Speaking of stewardship, climate activist and actor Wright makes it easier and less overwhelming to live with less impact on the planet. Small but lasting changes are key, like choosing reusable silicone food storage bags instead of plastic. She explains composting, why buying second-hand clothes should be a priority, and using bar soap to avoid plastic bottles. Wright also features easy household recipes, like homemade toothpaste and veggie burgers. Interviews with other climate advocates, great photos and color drawings are sprinkled throughout the book to make it even more engaging.
Join Rappahannock Central Regional Library for a historic walk through downtown Fredericksburg on April 13. Visit librarypoint.org/events.
Tracy McPeck is the Adult Services Coordinator at Central Rappahannock Regional Library.