The picture above is one I took yesterday around dusk as I was playing with the kids I work with. I couldn’t resist the light–I ran indoors and grabbed my camera.
With a spectacular setting, it’s easy to be motivated to go outside–but even here, I’m not enjoying this place enough. What is more important–a Buzzfeed article, or soaking up the Southern France sun?
I get distracted, I lose track of time, or it’s rainy and I wimp out: in short, I find a lot of excuses to stay indoors and/or behind a screen. When I was younger, I remember spending tons of time playing alone in my backyard; other times I was joining neighborhood friends on cross-garden gambols. I’m distressed that my ability to “occupy” myself outdoors has diminished as I’ve gotten older.
I go running, I go on walks, I take the kids to the park–but do I really play outdoors? Not much anymore. Does it matter? In a sense, no. It’s a good way to spend time with the kids, and running and walking are obviously useful as exercise. But, while many studies support the assumption that spending time “In Nature” is good for us, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what a personal benefit might be.
Or how to achieve it. Just stepping out the door doesn’t really do anything for me, anymore. I want to be occupied, feel productive. I want to unwind and all that, and for the last few weeks I was really mad at myself for being unable to just go outside and relax without an agenda.
But then I realized that even as a child, I had an agenda. When I went outdoors, I wasn’t doing it because it was good for me or even “to have fun”–I didn’t think of it that way. I was busy, occupied, preoccupied even, with getting things done. Things, admittedly, like mud pies. But still, the impulsion was there.
As an adult, I have to make a more conscious effort to prioritize something that feels like play. At the same time, I find that I get the most out of outside time when I have something to do. It’s not standing outside looking blankly to the sky that is beneficial, it’s engagement with a different landscape than the flat and anxious desk zone or the constant to-do list of a house with small children.
Something I read about children playing outdoors is that, while nature is hugely stimulating, it is an easier kind of stimulation for kids to deal with than the kind they find indoors. Instead of numerous blinking and buzzing toys, they are faced with a huge range of colors, textures, sensations. The photos I’ve included on this post are interesting to see together because, while very different environments in many ways, the range in hues of each photograph is basically the same, with similar light. I’m drawn to this particular combination of aesthetics.
For me, certain ranges of light have a similar effect as a familiar old chair might–I can sink into them a bit, remember other times and places in synchrony. I like going outside in these lighting conditions to take photographs, which is sort of my adult version of mud pies, but also because I’m immediately swept into a more relaxed or positively energized state of mind.
As much as I appreciate environmentalist efforts to Save Nature, ultimately what drives my main concern about climate change is my concern for my fellow humans. I suspect that a great deal of plant and animal life may be able to adapt to a significantly altered climate; I doubt the same can be said for humankind. At the same time, I’m no use to anyone if I’m anxious, restless, defensive, and unable to focus. Going outside is one of the ways I can ‘hit refresh.’
Sure, there may be no obvious utility, but sanity–in my book–is a worthy cause.