Caught Be­tween a Gulf and a Green Place

Times of the Islands - - Contents - BY DR. RAN­DALL H. NIEHOFF Dr. Ran­dall H. Niehoff has been liv­ing be­tween the Gulf and our is­land green places since 1991.

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.

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