Feeling Blue? Go Take a Hike!

Don’t just take my word for it.  Anne Frank said it so beautifully some 60 years ago in her book, The Diary of a Young Girl: “The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As longs as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”

Keep in mind where she wrote this.  Anne and her family where hiding from the Nazis.  They were confined to in an attic of a house in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  She could not go outside for two years and basically had no contact with nature.  She only had a window to look out into the sky.  A vibrant chestnut tree that grew right in front of the window was her closest contact to the natural world.

I recently got into a debate with someone on Facebook whether or not there is really hope for the future with the immense problem of climate change.  With all the environmental destruction caused by humans, my friend did not think there was hope for the future.  On the other hand, I am endlessly optimism who believes all of us humans can lessen the impact of climate change.  How do I know this?  From all the time I have spent in nature.

I grew up walking the trails of a county park that looked the Mississippi River by my house, Bee Tree Park.  I loved walking the woods and exploring the creeks by around my parents house in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri.  As soon as I graduated from college in 1992, I worked at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.  Every summer since, I have enjoyed hiking as many trails as I can in my spare time.  Up until spring 2008, I spent my winters in Everglades National Park, Florida.  As much as I could, I would canoe, bicycle, bird watch and hike all around that magnificent park also.  Local, state and national parks, and wilderness areas have always provided me a sense of wonder, renewal, peace, and hope.

From the past 20 years of working in the national parks, I went from working as a housekeeper and gift store cashier to a naturalist ranger leading presentations to visitors.  I even used that Anne Frank quote in many of my ranger programs.  When I was not out exploring nature, I loved reading about it in the evenings to educate myself and be knowledgeable for the park visitors.  My quest for green knowledge led to my interest in climate change.

For ten years now, I have been reading as many books as I can about climate change.  Most of the authors and scientists I read are very alarmed by the negative impact it is having on planet.  However, most seem hopeful that we can take lots of actions to lessen the impact for future generations.  Thus, I have always maintained hope we can solve climate change.

Four years ago, in November 2007 while still working in the Everglades, I had an epiphany.  I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to find some way to educate and inspire people to resolve climate change as some kind of public speaker or teacher.  Ever since then, I have been looking for a grad school to truly learn the art and science of effective climate change communications.  This is now my fourth winter in St. Louis trying to make this life transition.  While I am living with family and working various winter temporary jobs, I still have sought out nature.  I still make regular pilgrimages to Bee Tree Park to hike the trails, admire the wide Mississippi River, and look at the deciduous trees in amazement, especially how they change with the seasons.  Nature is still blessing me with renewal, wonder, peace and hope.

For my friend on Facebook, whom I was debating on the solutions to climate change, I tried to instill my hope from spending time in nature.  He was just not going to buy it.  Oh, well.  Some people are never going to be persuaded by your point of view.  However, I was really shocked by his pessimism and lack of hope for the future though.  After a conversation with him, you may not be hopeful that humans can take meaningful actions to reduce the threat of climate change.  I have never been convinced either that total pessimism inspires people to change their ways and take positive actions.   If you are just going to focus on doom and gloom projections of the future, you not going to be a joy to be around.  People will not be challenged to live a healthier, more sustainable, green life for the planet.  You will not help the cause.

My friend Tom Smerling, who founded the website www.climatebites.org said something interesting to me a few weeks ago.  He remarked that if we (who are very knowledgeable and aware of climate change) are not providing some kind of hope to our family, friends, students and people whom engage about climate change, then we must take a vacation or sabbatical.  This is a very truthful statement.  Even more, if you cannot take that vacation or sabbatical, at least go hiking in a nearby park.  Reconnect with nature.  Find that wonder by being in the natural world.
Don’t just take my word for this either.  Keep thinking about Anne Frank.  She expressed this deep appreciate for nature at the age of 14.   She even had this deep longing to reconnect with nature especially because she trapped hiding in that small attic with her family for two years.  She never gave up hope and optimism, despite the Holocaust happening all around.  Her words and spirit of hope forever lives on.  She would want us to go spend time in nature, especially if we were feeling hopeless and pessimistic about global issues like climate change.

If you really are feeling hopeless about the state of the world and humanity, please do yourself a favor and go spend some time in nature.  Nature has been such a wonderful friend to me.  The natural world has really inspired me to be green (strive to live more sustainably) and educate people to take action to resolve climate change.  I know if you are feeling blue, taking a hike will inspire you also to be green and live your best life.