It’s a beautiful spring day, the kind with just enough crisp in the breeze to start out with a light jacket, just enough sun in the sky to later slip it off. The Appalachian mountains call me this time of year. On the forest floor lady-slippers and trillium bloom yellow and pink, while high above, tall trees re-sheathe their limbs in green. Fat robins rustle in the nearby brush. Sun-dappled shade filters through the canopy, lighting a flame azalea on a far hillside, making it look for all the world like the mystical, ethereal burning bush.
I grew up going camping with my family and Girl Scout troop, and more and more in recent years I’ve sought again the solace of the trees. Or maybe I’m seeking more smarts—science tells us that time spent in nature both reduces stress levels and improves cognitive function. Elizabeth Kwak-Heffernan, in a May 2012 article in Backpacker magazine, cites a University of Rochester study (2010) that showed even 15 minute nature walks gave rise to a greater sense of “vitality”; she also describes an environmental neuroscience project that shows how “exposure to nature causes significant, measurable changes to the brain” that “let you think more clearly, focus more acutely, and perform to your maximum cognitive ability.” Continue reading