I am just back from a walk through the woods up and down my driveway bringing back today’s mail. My dogs and I do this daily. I say they take me for a walk and call it driveway aerobics. Almost at winter solstice it is late afternoon and the sun has just set. It is particularly beautiful. The late fall sky is a dusky lavender. The gray tree bones reach their bushy fingers up into the sky. They have let loose a multicolored leaves to form a thick quilt to keep Grandmother Earth warm against the cold winter soon to come.
My heart leaps with joy drinking in the brisk clear air and taking in all of the shapes and sizes of my tree friends. The Hollies now decked with abundant red berries and Mountain Laurel hold on to their green along with the tall tufts of Loblolly Pine. Research has shown that the bigger and thicker the forest the more pleasure and happiness is gained from a walk, but if the trees are too dense people feel a sense of foreboding and fear. Here is certainly proof of it.
I often seek the solace of the forest. This last full moon the woods were filled with bright magical light so bright there were no visible stars and no light needed to follow the path. Wrapped in a blanket I sat for a long time feeling the cool earth underneath holding me. The soft silky white light filtered through bare tree branches was so peacefully comforting. The energy from the joining of Earth and Moon danced off the forest floor. Everything felt so alive.
Roger S. Ulrich has done some very interesting research showing that scenes of nature have “increased positive feelings of affection, playfulness, friendliness and elation” while scenes of cities increased feelings of “sadness, anger and aggression.” Apparently nature increases our levels of serotonin, which when available in the brain results in a good happy mood.
Ulrich continued his research to show several other very interesting reasons why great gifts are given when we engaged with our environment. Doing activities in a garden setting lowered the levels of cortisol in older adults. Cortisol is a hormone that is released into the body when we are feeling stressed and can be destructive to the body if high levels are present over time.
Researchers at Kansas State University found that plants and particularly ones that are flowering helped people recover from stressful videos more quickly. I have often suggested to people who work in cubicles or offices that don’t look out onto some natural scene to have a pretty plant in their office or scenes from their favorite places in nature. Fountains with running water are also very peaceful and can help calm a stressful work environment.
“A research group from Taiwan reported that rural farm scenes are associated with higher alpha-wave activity, which has been associated with creativity. Forest scenes and natural water scenes promote alpha-wave activity and decrease heart rate.”
On a nice day if clients are willing we might sit outside on the back deck looking out into the woods and watching the very active bird feeders. Sometimes we might even go for a walk and talk. People are also free to come early for appointments or stay later to walk. I am glad that my office is attached to my home because it gives me more flexibility. I am free to create with the natural environment, planting gardens and creating trails in the woods as well as having plants in my office. People often comment on how comfortable, peaceful and calm they feel here.
The free-range chickens are a big hit. Sometimes clients come early just to watch the chickens. If the clients are all right with it I also have two Border Collies who can be present during sessions. The older one is the greeter. When she’s finished saying hello she is off to snooze for the rest of the session while the younger one is particularly attentive when someone is having a difficult time emotionally. People are quite comforted by all of these parts of the environment. I like it too because I offer an example of a more self-sufficient quiet lifestyle with an organic garden and honeybees too. Maybe people will be inspired. I strongly believe that I have to practice what I preach.
There’s a funny story about a wild turkey that came walking up the path in front of my office just as I was finishing up a session with a young woman. She said to me, “Do you keep turkeys?” Surprised I said, “No.” She was looking out the French doors at the front of my office and saw a big tom turkey. We were amazed and cautiously went to show her mom who was in the waiting room. He looked in at us but just kept walking. How odd!
Later I learned that the client I had seen just before the young woman had gone to the library at the other end of the house to read. She said that the turkey had come up to the glass door and seemed as if he wanted to come in. She was from Los Angeles and had very little knowledge of wildlife or experience in the woods. Just for kicks she opened the door for him and asked, “Would you like to come in?” He put one foot, pulled it back several times and then turned to go. She decided that he was asking her to follow him so amazingly she did.
He took her along the trail past the parking area and into the woods. She followed him for a while until he veered off the path down into the ravine. It was just beginning to get dark. Since she a city girl who was very unfamiliar with the woods she decided to come back. She was very excited about her brave adventure. That turned out to be a huge boost of confidence as well as a good story to tell all of her friends.
Psychologists have begun to explore using natural setting for helping troubled youth and working on improving family dynamics. Outdoor or wilderness therapy programs have been successful because of a “combination of being removed from daily life and its distractions; doing exercises to build trust and teamwork; taking solo trips where family members have a chance to ponder their individual issues and roles; and participating in group activities that end with a reward, like a beautiful mountain view.”
Other studies have found that this type of youth program has resulted in significantly improved mood and behavior that has held over time even after the end of the program. These youths have been seen to be more motivated, improved their life skills and interpersonal relationships. They consistently have more “hope, self-confidence and emotional control.” 
Science is showing us what we instinctively know. Walks in the woods help us feel calmer, less depressed, and less hostile and improve the quality of our sleep. Exercise in an outdoor environment “increases vigor and a feeling of liveliness.” Studies report, “that lower blood pressure, pulse rates and levels of cortisol accompany time spent amid trees and flowers”
There was also another very interesting study that was done in a hospital with patients who were recovering after gall bladder surgery. The recovery floor in this hospital had two hallways. On one side the rooms looked out onto a brick wall and the other side patients looked out into a wooded area. Those patients who had the rooms looking out into the woods consistently recovered more quickly, had fewer complaints and were able to manage their pain with aspirin instead of narcotic drugs. Their response was markedly different than those looking at bricks.
These studies validate our experience that time spent in out of doors in natural environments or even by looking at pictures or videos or by having live plants indoors vastly impact our health and sense of well being. They have even been able to show through MRI technology that viewing nature the opioid receptors in the brain that produce dopamine. Dopamine brings us a sense of pleasure, which means we are more heart centered and happier.
Head for the green spaces nearest you as often as you can, bring flowering plants to work or plan a vacation visiting one of the many exquisitely beautiful state or national parks. Feel better and live longer!
 Selhub, E.M., Logan, A.C. Nature Really does make us Happy. (December 2015/January 2016) Mother Earth News. P.58-63. Ogden Press.
 Selhub, et. al, P.60
 Selhub, et al. P.60
 DeAngelis, T. Therapy gone Wild. Monitor on Psychology. September 2013. American Psychological Association. P. 48-52
 DeAngelis, P.52
 Selhub, et. al P. 60