Florence Williams: 'This is Your Brain on Nature'

Yesterday, I had the chance to join friends from North Cascades Institute to listen to a discussion between Florence Williams, author of This is Your Brain On Nature - and REI's Bob Discher, at Seattle Town Hall.  

Florence Williams' book focuses on humanity's increasing disconnect from nature and the question of how good nature actually is for us. This review describes the themes discussed in her book and in yesterday's discussion.  

"For centuries, poets and philosophers extolled the benefits of a walk in the woods: Beethoven drew inspiration from rocks and trees; Wordsworth composed while tromping over the heath; and Nikola Tesla conceived the electric motor while visiting a park. Intrigued by our storied renewal in the natural world, Florence Williams set out to uncover the science behind nature’s positive effects on the brain.
Williams investigates cutting-edge research as she travels to fragrant cypress forests in Korea to meet the rangers who administer “forest healing programs,” to the green hills of Scotland and its “ecotherapeutic” approach to caring for the mentally ill, to a river trip in Idaho with Iraqi vets suffering from PTSD, to the West Virginia mountains where she discovers how being outside helps children with ADHD. The Nature Fix demonstrates that our connection to nature is much more important to our cognition than we think and that even small amounts of exposure to the living world can improve our creativity and enhance our mood. In prose that is incisive, witty, and urgent, Williams shows how time in nature is not a luxury but is in fact essential to our humanity." 

As an audience member, what struck me, was the depth and emotion of people attending the event and some the questions asked:

  • "How much nature is enough?"
  • "What surprised you in your research?" 
  • "What about diversity in the outdoors?"
  • "What about gender? Is the nature experience the same for all genders"
  • "What are other countries doing to explore nature as a place for healing?" (hint - a lot, especially Japan and South Korea).

'This Is Your Brain On Nature', is an important book and a great read. Perhaps this was evidenced most, in listening to people speak into a microphone to ask questions. These were questions which were deeply heartfelt, questions that indicated -without hesitation -the depth to which we feel awe when we even think about nature. They were questions about what going to nature really means for us. 

Hearing intimations about love for nature, listening to sentences broken by emotion and expressions of awe - this left me wondering about how many times I've either taken my nature experiences for granted, or that I've put off going to where I know I need to be - to feel that sense of completeness - which is so important in our lives, and that we know can be found in nature.

"All good things are wild and free".  Henry David Thoreau.