Into the Woods
For years I thought I was a city person. I was mixing up being in cities with being interested in the world. I thought “citified” and “cosmopolitan” were synonymous.
I’ve realized how wrong I was. I care about what’s going on all over the world, and I want desperately to keep seeing as much of it as I can and meeting people from everywhere I can. But when I come home, I don’t want it to be somewhere the windows don’t open, where lights shine in the window, where you can’t smell fresh air, where you can’t hear the leaves rustling.
I’ve realized how badly I need to see green. It’s not a preference; it’s not a penchant. It’s deeper, stronger, more visceral than that. Something smoothes out in my soul when I catch the glorious clash of deep-green leaves against a deep-blue sky. I feel my heart unwind and I feel my shoulders lower.
The way the red buds unwrap into the cool pale green of the spring leaves. The way their color strengthens through the summer until, oversaturated, the hue tips into autumn’s brassy explosion of yellows and reds. Even the way the branches get their due in winter to remind you of their own austere beauty. This is necessary. This is where I have to be.
The idea of living where I couldn’t look a forest in the face is as unappetizing as the idea of living off bread and water, or of sleeping on stone. I could, I know people do, and I know how blessed and lucky I am not to. But it isn’t really living at all.
I’d thought this was just a slightly melodramatic ideal of mine – until I read this. Some of what I found:
“Humans living in a neighborhood stripped of nature undergo patterns of social, psychological, and physical breakdown similar to those observed in animals deprived of their natural habitat. … [E]xposure to nature brings substantial mental health benefits. … Those living near the trees exhibited fewer aggressive and violent acts. … [N]ature… is a resource rich in opportunities for practicing kindness.”
And then this.
“Environmental noise calls attention to itself – splits our own attention, regardless of willpower. We jerk to the tug of noise like sonic marionettes. … There has been a transformation in our relationship to the environment over the millions of years … but part of our brain hasn’t registered the makeover. … [T]here is no physiological habituation to noise. The stress of audible assault affects us physiologically even when we don’t consciously register noise. In American culture, we tend to regard sensitivity to noise as a sign of weakness or killjoy prudery.
It seems that my instinct was right. These things matter. Green and trees and silence. They all seem to matter, and not just to me.