I wander along the St Michaels nature trail several times a day. It offers a quiet place to reflect and a variety of natural landscapes: water, woodland, a horse farm, and grassland to experience. Its diversity meets the needs of a multitude of wildlife and people. I have found new friends on the trail, and I converse regularly with others who transect my path.
Most are fellow transplants or returnees…and many of us have come here for healing.
It is instinctual, being drawn to nature for healing and restoration. I am drawn to the serenity of the phalanx of creeks and rivers that quietly weave through the Eastern Shore landscape.
For others, the mountains with their dark green, verdant forests and bright snow crusted peaks, provide inspiration to recharge. Still others are nourished by the desert’s rugged, harsh landscape and unrelenting blue sky. Then there are those who prefer frozen landscapes where mounds of snow dampen sound and the crystal clear, cold air magnifies the crunch of footsteps and the raptors’ calls.
But if you need water, the Eastern Shore is the place to be. Those who need to feel the power and vastness of a rhythmic, booming ocean and the sting of salt air go to the coast. And those of us who like the wide, gentle rivers and creeks that softly weave through the land, come to the midshore.
Medicine has always relied on the healing power of nature, Hippocrates said “Nature itself is the best physician.”
But it took awhile for scientists to confirm what our souls already knew. Nature is restorative, it is a place to go to heal and rebuild.
Scientific research has proven that being in nature just 30 minutes a day lowers stress, lowers blood pressure, lowers heart rate, improves the immune system, and even reduces the risk of cancer and heart disease.
Scientists have recently discovered that inhaling aromatic compounds from plants and trees (called phytoncides) increases our body’s production of natural killer (NK) cells; a vital immune system weapon against viruses and nefarious cells.
Environmental psychologists have demonstrated that watching nature with a sense of awe brings out the better angels of our nature. We are less entitled, less selfish, more generous, and more empathic when we connect to the natural world.
Nature provides symptomatic relief from depression, anxiety, and attention disorders. Walking in nature increases our creativity, problem solving ability, memory, and can mitigate some symptoms of early Alzheimer’s.
The next question is how? How does a simple walk among grasses, water, and trees change our bodies and our brains? In addition to aromatic compounds, it is believed that the air near moving water, forests, and mountains contains high levels of negative ions which may be responsible for body and brain changes. Studies have demonstrated that brain activity changes after exposure to nature.
But science is limited by what it can measure.
Humans are limited by what we can sense.
Nature has no such constraints.
Einstein said, “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
History has taught us that what we know is not all that there is. It is logical to believe that there are energies that we cannot measure, spectrums we cannot see, and vibrations we cannot hear. But nature has invisible rhythms that do not need to be measured or dissected, just experienced.
“There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” Rachel Carson
“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” Henry David Thoreau
“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.” Frank Lloyd Wright
“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms, their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” John Muir
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.