Spring Can Be a Happy Time or Not 15 Mar 2017

Spring begins Monday, March 20th, five days from now. It officially starts when the sun crosses the Celestial Equator. Day and night are virtually equal and is called the Spring Equinox.

Daylight Savings Time began at 2 a.m. on March 12th. In states observing this event, clocks were advanced an hour. (Remember the phrase “spring forward; fall back.”)

In a nutshell, two events are happening within a few days of each other. For some people, the transition is traumatic. Anxiety, stress, and tension increase. It seems that with warming temperatures, more daylight, buds swelling, flowers blooming, and birds singing mating serenades, we all ought to feel happier. But for some people, any change means uncertainly and worry and spring can be a rough time. So if you feel emotionally stressed at the transition into spring and the one-hour time jump, you aren’t alone.

Outdoor experiences such as walking, hiking, climbing, and camping can be therapeutic. Studies indicate that heart surgery patients recover more rapidly if their hospital room has a window view of nature’s beauty. Even a picture of the outdoors hanging on the hospital wall has been shown to help recovery. ADHD and ADD ease their grip on some sufferers allowing a reduction or cessation of medication.

John Muir, a true aficionado of the outdoors who spent countless days and nights hiking in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, said:

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. 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 away from you like the leaves of Autumn.

Henry David Thoreau condensed this concept and gave it even more impact when he wrote:

In wildness is the preservation of the world.

(Yes, he said wildness, not wilderness.)

Personally, I don’t have to be in the mountains to feel nature’s therapy. Being outside almost anywhere can accomplish the same thing.

Today people spend less and less time in the outdoors. Glued to TVs, video games, and cell phones, their environment is a contrived, artificial experience that doesn’t lend itself to relaxation and rejuvenation.

Too many kids don’t even know where their food comes from. Students taken to a dairy farm near Dallas to watch cows being milked were sickened by the experience. Some said they thought milk was mined, crushed into a dry powder and boxed. But squeezed from the underside of cows? Yuk!

Richard Louv, the author of Last Child in The Woods, warned that our youth are losing a critical stabilizing influence by spending too much time indoors. He called it the “nature-deficit disorder.”

I remember with great fondness the hours I have sat by a flickering campfire, hypnotized by its undulating orange flames and glowing red coals. The world’s cares were replaced with calmness and tranquility that nothing else matched. Sadly, a recent study indicated that less than 30 percent of people interviewed knew how to build a fire. Our pioneer forebears would be horrified to hear that.

My Ph.D. project involved taking a dozen college students to the remote 3 by 5-mile Garden Island in northern Lake Michigan where we had to live off the land for two weeks. They were only permitted to bring what would fit into a 2-quart container and the clothes they wore. Research testing showed that the result was increased self-concept and improved ability to cope with stress.

I was gratified to see the front page article about Gary Perdue’s 6th grade outdoor education class from Mike Moses Middle School learning to build fires without matches, and constructing primitive survival shelters. The experience may be life changing and give them a greater appreciation of our fields and forests.

Dr. Risk is a professor emeritus in the College of Forestry and Agriculture at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Content © Paul H. Risk, Ph.D. All rights reserved, except where otherwise noted. Click paulrisk2@gmail.com to send questions, comments, or request permission for use.