Nurture the Nature Connection: Five Ways to BE Outside

This has been called the Age of Anxiety. I can feel it, can you? Nature surreptitiously offers to be a healing balm. Below are five ways to spread it on thick:

1. Rethink nature in an urban environment.

How many of us live in big cities? Apparently a lot of us as somewhere in this millennium the scales tipped from the majority of the world’s population living in rural areas to living in urban. So, how many of us lament that the jungle we live in is made of cement and construction rather than moss and bark? One of the things I love best about nature is that it creeps. Kind of like hope. Banish it and it will crawl back in on ladybug legs. Because it has been proven that nature deficit is directly related to increased crime rates, depression, and other urban maladies (Richard Louv), city planners all over the world are working to preserve and to create open spaces and parks. Assume that they are nearby and seek them out.

2. Find your sit spot.

I live on the fifth floor of a concrete apartment building in a gated neighborhood on the north edge of a university campus. There is a sprawling tree that grows near the northwest gate. I can sit with my back propped against a skinny little trunk of a tree planted in a perfect row of skinny little trees and listen to the crows scold me for watching them build their mammoth nests in empty branches on cold days. I help my sons rake enormous leaves into deep crunchy piles in the autumn and I relish the deep green shade when the desert sun compensates for its winter laziness. It is my sit spot and I go there regularly.

3. Learn to name local nature.

After years of living in my city, I noticed a bird. Then I started to see it everywhere – perched, and hopping and flying; solo, in pairs and flocks. It is large and imposing, mostly black with white wing tips and blue accent feathers. Pointing to one I asked a friend what it is called and she told me that it is 喜鹊 (xique), the provincial bird of Ningxia, a legendary bringer of good luck, a magpie. My sons and I began to hunt for brilliant sapphire feathers on the ground anytime we were out in the neighborhood. One day we found one on the synthetic turf of the soccer field. We took it to show the friend who taught us to name the bird and she congratulated us. Naming something is a way of knowing it and to know it is to learn to value it (Elaine Brooks).

4. Escape. Assume you can and figure out how to.

My team was lightest on the day we piled into a rented van and drove out of town. We wandered up cobblestone paths and through vined archways, snuck through a construction zone and then hiked to the top of Pen-Holder Mountain. We shared peanuts and water and tracked a herd of wild mountain sheep into the valley. My team comes back to this shared memory and when we talk about it we are light again.

5. Bring outside in.

The brightest and freshest space in my home is the 阳台 (yangtai) or sun porch which is an enclosed functional space (about 1×3 meters) off of the third bedroom. It is traditionally used for drying laundry and often becomes a catchall storage space. In addition to valuing the practice of hanging laundry, we have redeemed our yangtai by adding some cheap wire shelving, flowering potted plants, an herb garden and a rug. I go there to work floor puzzles with my kids and to escape my kids. I go there when the magpie brings me good tidings and when I pray. I go there to breathe and to cope.

One of the main benefits of spending time in nature is stress reduction (Peter Kahn, The Human Relationship with Nature). Even those of us who are not “nature people,” who are more comfortable in a hotel lobby than on a mountain summit, can reduce the Anxiety of the Age by nurturing our connections to nature.

How do you nurture your connection to nature? What helps you to BE where you are? 

Photo Credit: bamboo running girl via Compfight


  1. Jessica Hoover March 12, 2014

    Funny story, one day when we were in Liberia we asked the guard our our compound what a certain bird was that we frequently saw.  What you have to know is that Liberians tend to be very literal people. He told us it was a “cow bird” because it follows behind cows and eats the bugs that swarm. We were certain that this wasn’t the scientific name of the bird, but that is what we continue to call it to this day. We also started asking this guard names for all types of local nature- always, always we got a name that had to do with what the bird/animal/tree/etc…did. Unless it was a green or black mamba because…well…we all knew what that was! Liberia was a great place to be outdoors in!

    1. Kimberly Todd March 13, 2014

      I read yesterday about a mom who rather than telling her young daughter to be careful when they were in nature, told the young girl to pay attention. That meant a lot to me for myself and my kids, particularly in light of the recent conversations we’ve had here about fear. I see this idea of paying attention all over your story. Don’t know if I could hang on to that kind of calm though when faced with a green or black mamba.

  2. morielle March 13, 2014

    I really like the tip of learning the names of local wildlife. I tend not to notice wildlife, but started asking recently, and it’s as if my eyes have been opened to all this life around me!

    Last year was my first year living in urban hell (or so I would have described it as first). Growing up in Montana and going to college on a school known for its beauty and space, Shenzhen was quite a shock. I can still remember the first step I was able to take towards seeing beauty in Shenzhen. I was sitting on a bus early one morning during rush hour, and I noticed the sun reflected on one of the skyscrapers. I had what now seems like an obvious epiphany, but felt so significant at the time. I realized that the same sun I had grown up seeing reflected in pristine wilderness lakes was shining from the face of that building! The same sun warmed my cheeks as I stepped off the bus. The very same sun helped me see all the colors and strange sights of the city. All of a sudden, I started to see the trees, and notice the sky (when the pollution wasn’t hiding it…), and feel the wind. That moment completely changed everything.

    1. Kimberly Todd March 13, 2014

      I am so glad that you captured that memory for yourself and so beautifully shared it here. This shift in perspective is so significant. I moved here from Colorado where I used to collect fourteeners (summiting mountains over 14ooo feet). At the point that I began to see and notice and feel nature here, this life became sustainable rather than something I would endure until I could live somewhere nicer. May we walk in beauty.

  3. Ashley Felder March 13, 2014

    I always thought I didn’t care for nature much. My dad loves it and that’s great, but his green thumbs and love of bird-watching and just enjoying outside sure didn’t pass down to me. And then I moved to China. Nature what? I like your point to assume there is a park nearby. I’m finding there are some, even if that has a very different definition than what I would think of in the States. Even though it may take monumentous effort to get there, I know it’s important. My boys need to be in nature. In our current city in the frigid 东北, they are stuck inside for 5-6 months a year. In my opinion, horrible! But these past few days have been good…above freezing. Which means we can get outside again! Today, they discovered grass and pine cones again. I had to laugh at their excitement. But who could blame them? It’s like something brand new when you haven’t seen it in so long!

    Thanks for the reminder that we need to seek ways to find time to spend outside. A great way to worship.

    1. Kimberly Todd March 13, 2014

      Yes, having two young boys moves “It might be nice to get out for a bit today” to much much higher on the priority list for us. What was surprising was how good it is for me and for us. It seems counterintuitive because why would we take our ugly out to share? but when things fall apart inside, it’s shoes on folks. Out we go. And it might sound a bit dramatic, but we are saved. Bringing outside in might be of particular importance when you are stuck inside for that long. Happy park hunting to you this spring!

  4. Laura March 13, 2014

    Kimberly, thanks for your words about nature and including it in our lives. I’ve never considered myself an outdoorsy kind of person, but I’ve realized that enjoying nature or escaping to sightsee is a great way to lower my stress level. I live within an hour of a castle, which has incredible grounds, so I bought an annual pass and have already been several times. I don’t spend much time (if any) looking at the castle, but I love wandering the grounds and trying out a new walking path each time I go. It’s become my way to “escape” the town where I live and enjoy some quiet time with God.

    1. Kimberly Todd March 14, 2014

      That is SO great. I have very fond memories of wandering castle grounds in Europe. The castles were cool, but the grounds were what really captured me. That pass is money and time very well spent.

  5. Caitriana March 13, 2014

    All great tips! For (4), I’ve found that joining a hiking club or group can be a great way to escape – lots of cities in China have them, and it can be a brilliant way to get out of the city and discover places you might not have got to by yourself. Then, if you find a good place, you know where to go if you want to go back later with a smaller group or by yourself for a quieter kind of escape!

    1. Kimberly Todd March 14, 2014

      I once joined a walking club in Oxford which led us through the countryside to the quiet town of Bladon (where Winston Churchill is buried) and ended on the grounds of a castle in another town I don’t remember. I did it again later with a friend. It hasn’t occurred to me to look for that here in China. Excellent, excellent idea! 

  6. Danielle Krouch March 13, 2014

    Such a great reminder.  I know many of our teammates struggle with this, and getting out of the city really does help.  Cambodia has rice fields just short drive outside of the city, and it’s always amazing to me how much calmer I feel in the small villages than I do in our bustling city.  I love what you said about being able to name local nature.  I’m going to have to work on that one!

    1. Kimberly Todd March 14, 2014

      Rice fields are such beautiful places. Biking by them between small villages in southern China during some travels are really nurturing memories for me.

    2. Kimberly Todd March 14, 2014

      And I bet there is some very cool nature in Cambodia. I would love to hear/see what is native there when you discover it.

  7. Brittany March 13, 2014

    I don’t think I realized how much I like to be outside until we moved from a suburban town in Texas to a downtown urban city in Europe.  It’s a completely different climate, so even going outside for a walk has been difficult.  Going from Texas where I only got cold three days of the entire year, being snowed in is completely foreign to me!  But there is a beautiful park just a couple of miles away, and I think we will be going there as much as we can!

    1. Kimberly Todd March 14, 2014

      A change of climate is no small adjustment. I’m originally from Texas too and I learned to wear long underwear here, not just when I’m going to be out for bit but as a second skin from around November to March. Enjoy that park this spring!

  8. Amy March 13, 2014

    Our biggest struggle in moving overseas was and is to find similar things to our previous life/location that help rejuvenate us, particularly the places in God’s creation.  He’s been good to us.  We live in a small town, pueblo, but it is on the main street so our ears and nose are constantly reminded of the traffic of this hustling little town.  We, too, live in an apartment building, with no green space or much running space. 🙂  Thankfully, we have a great big park with trees, grass, playground equipment and some water fountains.  In addition, we’ve found a little stream with a walk way next to it.  This has been our quiet place.  We go and throw rocks into the “little” waterfall and play “Pooh sticks” off of the bridge.  It’s been a safe haven for us and the kids, and allows us to be quiet to listen to our Lord amongst His creation.

    1. Kimberly Todd March 14, 2014

      I think there’s something wonderful about returning to the same place over and over. Instead of getting bored or frustrated with a lack of variety we can begin to know the place and how cycles transform it and renew it, and we too are transformed and renewed. I hear contentment in your comment, gratitude for the haven you do have. And we also play “Pooh sticks.” =)

      1. Brittany March 14, 2014

        Okay, I have to ask…what is “pooh sticks”?!

        1. Liz Schouten March 14, 2014

          Pooh sticks is a simple game which Winnie the Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre woods invented. You drop sticks off one side of a bridge, upstream, and run to the other side to see whose stick “wins” by coming out the other side first.

          1. Amy Young March 14, 2014

            Oh how my nieces love to play pooh sticks — well, and their aunt too :). What is it about a stick floating down water?!

          2. Brittany March 14, 2014

            Haha, I feel like I should have known that…but I guess I’ve never done that!  Sounds like we need to find some moving water so my boys can enjoy that!

          3. Amy March 15, 2014

            Glad to hear so many know about Pooh sticks.  🙂  The collection is a great read aloud and a nice break from learning language, if any of you are still in that process.  Thanks, Kimberly for the reminder to look for and enjoy the changes of the “same” place throughout the year.  I guess there is a bit of excitement to know when we will start to see the buds on the pussy willows and the blooms of the daffodils.  This is our first year here, so it is rather exciting even amongst the struggle of being content.  I am very grateful for the little things that the Lord has given us.  I really never expected to see His hand so clearly in these quiet desires of my heart.

  9. Shelly March 13, 2014

    Great ideas, Kim. Thanks for the reminder that we need nature.

    There is a park “down the road” that takes about 30 minutes to get to and it…is…great! You have to be strategic if you want to be “alone” in the sea of people, so Saturday mornings are not the best time to visit. But any weekday afternoon I can find a bench that overlooks a man-made lake, trees and skyscrapers in the distance. Even if I don’t have time to go that distance, just a walk around campus on “good air” days nurtures my nature connection. There are trees and grass in the park at the center of campus.  And if I am not outside, then I bring it inside by paying attention to the birds that sing outside my window every morning. I don’t have a yang tai, but I can see blue skies from my livingroom sofa while sipping tea and reading a good book, or the Good Book. One thing I don’t have is a sit spot outside–unless I consider the bench at the park down the road.


    1. Kimberly Todd March 14, 2014

      I love it when the time comes to throw open the windows and the bird songs become a part of the noise we hear. I have to tune my ears to hear them among the students moving about campus, but there’s something I also like about the stream of student life. Speaking of open windows, I read once that indoor pollution is always higher than outdoor. I wonder if that can be true of some of the cities in China. There’s another reason to bring outside in with house plants which improve the quality of our air.

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