Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge
One of my favorite things to do is walk. Walking has a pace and rhythm that allows for observation, contemplation, and breath. It is an important part of my creative process and a favorite family activity in all seasons.
These pictures are from a recent hike in the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, a 14,000-acre corridor of land and water located along the Minnesota River. The refuge runs through urban, rural and industrial areas while providing habitat for a variety of birds and other wildlife and access to a public, natural environment for nearly 3 million people living nearby.
Nature Walks: Two Favorite Things
I’m not the only fan of walking. From the ancient Greeks to the present day, writers, artists and philosophers have given props to the benefits of walking – particularly in nature. From Henry David Thoreau’s famous essay “Walking” to Fredrich Nietzsche’s assertion that, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking,” there is a rich history of walking enthusiasts.
Turns out there’s something to it all. In the article, “Why Walking Helps Us Think,” Ferris Jabr details ways that walking stimulates brain health by increasing blood and oxygen flow to the brain as well as improving memory function and connections between brain cells. (Article linked below)
But beyond the physical effects on the brain, there is a less quantifiable phenomenon that takes place – a rhythm between our steps and our breath – what Jabr calls “an unadulterated feedback loop between the rhythm of our bodies and our mental state” that puts us in a zone. That meditative flow state is optimal for creative thinking; the fact that walking doesn’t require much thought also frees up the brain to wander outside the box.
Then there’s the nature part. An abundance of new research confirms what nature lovers have always known: being in nature is good for you! Exposure to nature can do everything from lower blood pressure and strengthen your immune system to alleviate depression and lower crime rates.
Greening vacant lots, giving hospital patients a window overlooking a tree instead of a brick wall, simply breathing the forest air – in each study and example, the evidence is mounting that exposure to nature is essential to our well-being. Doctors and even insurance companies are getting behind the radical idea that nature might be the breakthrough ‘prescription’ we need to cure so many of our modern ailments.
I’m fascinated and excited by this topic (can you tell?) I’ve included links to some great articles and podcasts at the bottom of this post. Follow along with Wildlflower for more to come…
I know firsthand the benefits of walking outside. Early in my photography career, I developed a way of working that involved exploring my everyday surroundings with my camera on foot. What I didn’t realize at first was that the mindful intention and meditative flow of these photo walks became as much a spiritual practice as a creative one.
My work has always been about seeing the beauty in ordinary subjects. Increasingly my focus is on the natural world, the flora & fauna, wind and water, changing seasons, light, color and texture that make up the everyday wonders of the world.
Wherever you are, there is something to see, some bit of nature – even if it’s just a flower growing up through a crack in the sidewalk, a bird or bug in flight, a shaft of light. It’s just a matter of paying attention, pausing long enough to recognize what’s there in front of you.
The wildlife refuge is a place both wild and industrial, existing in the heart of the Twin Cities Metro Area. Everywhere you look, there are reminders of the city and built environment. We spotted a flock of egrets near Black Dog energy plant, spied a Great Blue Heron perched on a drainage culvert, and hiked beneath the freeway bridge where wildflowers and waterfowl thrive.
This is no pristine wilderness but it is a place that demonstrates a harmonious relationship between humans and the natural world. This relationship is the central theme of a large mural recently completed near one entrance to the refuge.
The mural, “At the Confluence of Science and Nature,” by Erik Pearson is part of a Creative Placemaking initiative by Artistry, a regional art center and the City of Bloomington. It is located at the Bass Ponds trail access point on the wall of Cypress Semiconductor. It pictures a harmonious future between science and technology and nature and outdoor recreation.
Bloomington Education and Visitor Center
3815 American Blvd. East
Bloomington, MN 55425
Henry David Thoreau. Walking, The Atlantic, June 1826.
Ferris Jabr. Why Walking Helps Us Think, The New Yorker, Sept 3, 2014.
On Nature’s Benefits
**Four-part Nature Cure series from Outside:
Part 3: The Doctors Prescribing Nature
Part 4: What Awe in Nature Does for Us
Our Better Nature, Hidden Brain (NPR).
Books & Articles – More to come!
Richard Louv, The Nature Principle, Algonquin Books, 2011.
The Incredible Link Between Nature & Your Emotions, Outside Magazine.