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Afraid of the Outdoors - What?

This week I read with interest - and dismay - an article about a phenomenon that has never existed previously but is becoming more prevalent: people who are afraid of nature. Sounds like it could be something satirical straight out of The Onion, doesn't it? Only it's not.

This is the real deal; "Fear of Natural Environments" is now recognized as a phobia. Especially among children, many of whom remain indoors much of the time, alienation from nature is occurring more frequently.

As a landscape photographer and someone who feels a sense of peace and joy when in the natural world, I find this incredible - sad - and outrageous. Unfortunately, it's also unsurprising.

Many kids these days are attached at the hip to their tablets, phones and various and sundry devices. The idea of a hike in the woods, or a visit to a national park, is viewed as a bore - or a foreign concept. And if they do make the trip, how many barely notice their surroundings?

The last time I was at Yellowstone on a photo shoot, I was amazed by the numbers of people who were talking on or looking at their phones - seemingly oblivious to the magnificent sights they were walking past. (Sidenote: if you live in a market serviced by Comcast, perhaps you've seen a current ad showing a guy sitting on a horse out in a beautiful wilderness park somewhere - glued to his tablet watching television. We're supposed to be impressed that Comcast enables us to stream TV shows seemingly wherever we may be. I've seen enough of this exact scenario in real life to be appalled by the ad's concept.)

Back to the article:

Harvard naturalist Edmund O. Wilson described biophilia, “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life,” as an instinctive bond between human beings and all other living systems. But in the face of urbanization and over-protection of children, many are now growing up biophobic instead – either somewhat afraid of, or just outright terrified of nature. This unprecedented breakdown of the fundamental bond between us and all living systems has disastrous consequences for our health, and for planetary well-being.

There are so many benefits to the proverbial "walk in the woods." It can kick start your creativity. It can revitalize. It's great exercise. It's an exceptional break from the daily routine. It's a stress-buster. But how surprised I was to read in this article that trees actually emit chemical compounds that are beneficial to human health! A study out of Japan found that:

...trees give off chemical compounds called phytoncides that naturally boost our immunity and enhance how we feel overall. An increasing body of science shows that those who spend more time in the woods experience improved health.

If you already spend time outdoors, I don't have to tell you how enjoyable - and more than that, how beneficial it is. If you don't make it a habit to get outside, you owe it to yourself to do it - as regularly as possible. You'll be glad you did.  

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