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Go outdoors in times of stress

Connecting with nature is good for the mind, body 

Thank goodness 2020 is over—a year plagued with social distancing, masks that fog up your glasses, death, sickness, division and economic turmoil. I hope that 2021 will mean the end of COVID-19 and a return to life as we knew it. 

There is a positive for me that arose from the ashes of last year. I utilized the outdoors like never before. I hiked along Kentucky’s beautiful trails. I metal detected, rock hunted and canoed. In mid-October while fishing from a riverbank, as golden leaves spun down to the water’s surface, I hooked into a nice 2.5-pound smallmouth bass with a Mepps spinner bait. Finally, my wife and I got a goldendoodle puppy (half golden retriever/half standard poodle) to be our companion in the wilds of America. 

Why do I share this information? Mental health professionals and physicians say that outdoor recreation is a safe way to cope with the depression and anxiety that comes along with the pandemic, with the added bonus of improving our physical condition. I’ve known the benefits for a long time. I spent much of my youth in the woods or on the water—creating early experiences that had a profoundly positive impact on my life. However, it’s never too late to begin an up-close and personal relationship with the natural world. 

We can only hope we won’t see another pandemic, but throughout human history deadly viruses have raised their ugly heads and likely will again. So, I encourage everyone to get outside and learn some new skills to offset negative emotions. It may be nothing more than daily walking. It may be learning how to fish, hunt, hike or camp. It could be learning how to take wildlife or landscape photographs. Or learning how to kayak, or simply honing the outdoor skills you already have. 

When I paddle a stream or walk in the woods, I experience a reconnection with old truths buried somewhere in all of us. Perhaps I am sensing the memories of our ancient ancestors who were one with nature. Like them, I am keenly aware of my surroundings. I take a deep breath and inhale the smell of life in the forest. As I gaze up at the sun’s rays shimmering down through the forest canopy, I feel alive—and all the caustic thoughts of the coronavirus are gone. 

Finally, if heaven is a city made of gold, I don’t know if I want to go. My idea of heaven is a cabin by a creek where dogs still get ticks and the fish don’t always bite. If I am taking my love for the outdoors that far into the future, perhaps you will, too, so get out there and enjoy. 

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