The Hamilton Spectator

The importance of nature, connection


Last weekend, I organized a walk in Iroquoia Heights Conservati­on Area for neighbours and friends of friends, ostensibly as a soft launch to the coaching business I’m just getting underway.

I envisioned a leisurely walk, with a bit of natural history and some city history thrown in, then a gentle sales pitch, and everyone would go home happy and informed.

“Find out what people want from the walk,” my much, much wiser wife advised me before I left for the meeting point.

We hiked for almost three hours under glorious sunshine. One neighbour met two old friends she hadn’t seen in years. Another bumped into her daughter’s preschool dance teacher. Others found new connection­s with interestin­g people as they walked and talked.

Along the way we learned the number of “dee dee dees” in a Chickadee’s call tells you how dangerous they think the threat is, we touched the budding willow leaves and soaked up the sunshine.

At the rest stop halfway, I asked what people were enjoying the most. The answers were all the same: Nature, sunshine, connection with people.

Two days later, we would all get an object lesson in how important those three things are. Many of us sat in backyards with friends, joined neighbours and strangers at local parks, or thronged to either of the city’s stadiums to watch the clouds miraculous­ly part and the moon creep across the sun.

As totality hit, three things happened: Nature showed us it still has the power to awe and inspire us, the temperatur­e outside dropped like a stone and people started to cheer and applaud, sharing their collective joy.

About 80 seconds or so later the sun peeked its face back out from behind the moon, and daylight and warmth were restored. In Highland Garden Park, a round of polite, appreciati­ve applause went up as if we were all at a Hamilton Philharmon­ic Orchestra concert. Nature. Sunshine. Connection with people.

On the way back to our vehicles after Saturday’s walk, one neighbour told me how disconnect­ed she’d felt since she started working from home during the pandemic. All she does is sit inside and stare at a screen.

Before we parted, everyone asked when I would be organizing the next one.

We live in a society that has done its best to strip nature, sunshine and connection with others from our lives. Advertiser­s keep us in dark rooms glued to little screens that trick us into thinking we’re connected to other people, easily fooled by the slowly dwindling stream of comments and likes on our devices.

But the lack of friendship and isolation in our society is harming us. A Pew Research study two years ago showed one in six Americans had one or fewer good friends. An ongoing study at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto has shown that loneliness is as bad for us as smoking a half pack of cigarettes a day.

Meanwhile, author and psychologi­st Richard Louv has been warning us of the danger of being disconnect­ed from nature in our daily lives since 2005. The children he described in his book “Last Child in the Woods” who were addicted to their devices have now grown into adults who struggle with the same thing.

Real connection comes from spending time with people face to face. Talking and sharing a coffee or a walk, and catching up, or getting to know a real live human being. There is simply nothing that can replace that. And if you can make that connection outdoors, all the better.

If it’s going to be sunny on a weekend this summer, do yourself a favour, reach out to a friend and say, “Let’s go for a hike, or have a picnic, or go for a splash on a beach.”

Nature, sunshine and connection with people. Let’s get back to what we all need to thrive.

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