GULF COAST ZEITGEIST
Caught Between a Gulf and a Green Place
On the main road from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, to Mombasa one encounters this sign: TAKE NOTICE: WHEN THIS SIGN IS UNDER WATER, THIS ROAD IS IMPASSABLE. While a traveler should be thankful for the warning, it seems one should be more grateful for avoiding a flood! After Hurricane Irma blew through last fall, islanders were thankful for the minimal wind damage and the small tidal surge of less than 3 feet; and, as ever, we are more grateful for the continued opportunity to live between the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the vibrant green spaces of our sanctuary island (where about 70 percent of the land is carefully conserved).
We practice a measured confidence about being delightfully “captivated” in our vulnerable coastal environment, knowing those surrounding waters can sometimes get angry. To quote one of Murphy’s lesser-known laws: “A good time to keep your mouth shut is when you’re in deep water.”
So, every hurricane season we quietly prepare for the worst— which is why we have all the more reason to be grateful here and now.
Psychologists and neuroscientists have made a list of the benefits of living where we do—they read like timely road signs for those who wend their way along the path of Gulf Coast living:
A new study (in Scientific Reports, September 2017) discovered a connection between where you live and the health of your brain’s amygdala (the almond-shaped set of neurons that plays a key role in the processing of emotions, including fear and anxiety). Being near to forested land is linked with the strong, healthy functioning of this key part of the brain. Compared with those who inhabit urban, mostly man-made environments, nature-neighbors are better able to cope with stress.
That study (from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin) compliments the alreadystrong psychological evidence of the benefits of living close to nature. Previous research at Harvard linked green-space access to longer lives and lower levels of aggression ( Environmental
Health Perspectives, September 2016, Vol. 124, Issue 9).
A team at the University of Southern California affirmed the same clear mental-health benefits to be found in teens who engage with the natural environment ( Pacific Standard, June 30, 2016).
Scientists at Barcelona’s Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology documented the positive effect of proximity to nature on the cognitive development of children ( Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, Vol. 112, No. 26).
A research project at the University of Rochester suggests that interacting with the open spaces of land and water makes for nicer people who express a more caring attitude to others ( Pacific Standard, August 17, 2009).
Another newly published study from the University of Florida recommends that future space voyages should include plant life—rapport with greenery helps reduce social and cognitive problems that are associated with extraterrestrial travel ( The Global Source for Science News, October 19, 2017).
Meanwhile, back on earth, all these lessons confirm why islanders are thankful and what may be a lesser-known law of nature but absolutely true: You will never meet an ungrateful person who is happy; you will never meet a grateful person who is not happy—and kind.