"However you decide to exercise, remember to make your moving joyful" was the recommendation with which I ended the article I wrote for this column in January of 2020. I stand behind those words. Joyful moving has helped my physical and mental health in the past two years while the pandemic changed our lives in ways big and small, and different for each of us.
But even on a day when I don't feel like exercising, I do my best to step away from my desk and go to a nearby park or beach to oxygenate my body and focus my eyes on nature; I always return feeling better, rebalanced. The title of a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports in 2019 supports my experience: "Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing."
One thing that has blessedly not changed in these pandemic years is our access to the outdoors here in Humboldt. The same place is never exactly the same upon repeated visits, so going back to a park, trail or beach, even a well-known one, on a different day will lead to a different experience.
For one thing, seasons bring changes. In March we look for trilliums to tell us spring is approaching. Douglas irises follow. Fog is the hallmark of summer, while fall brings back clearer skies. On a winter morning after a frosty night, grass blades and bush leaves are embroidered with ice crystals, which the rising sun makes sparkle.
In a recent piece ("Get Out into the Fog," Aug. 26, 2021), I talked about Big Lagoon, which I have explored on kayak and paddleboard countless times. I have also sat on a bench on its shore and taken in the expanse of water — calm or rippled by a breeze — the tall Sitka spruce, the dark beach, great egrets and great blue herons, while on the other side of the spit, the ocean rumbled.
I had seen brown pelicans there before but nothing prepared me for what I witnessed one morning in early October after a few weeks of absence: a congregation of them had gathered at the south end of the lagoon. They reminded me of a group of teenagers hanging out, content to spend time together. Every now and then a group of them took off, ruffling the water while getting up to speed, then soared. Others landed with a splash, oblivious, I felt, to my presence as I observed them from shore, then later tried to skirt them on my paddleboard.
I watched in silence and awe with a few other people. When we spoke, we whispered. There was something exhilarating about being vastly outnumbered by the birds and it felt good to be ignored by them. It warmed my heart to see they liked Big Lagoon. Though the smallest of the world's eight pelican species, the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) is still a big seabird. It has a thin neck and long bill equipped with a stretchy throat pouch used for capturing fish. It plunge-dives from high up, stuns small fish with the impact of its large body and scoops them up into its pouch. I had seen brown pelicans glide in V formation, their long, broad wings bowed, then perform their fishing stunt, but being close to so many of them was a new experience.
And being ignored by them was a balm for my brain. Sometimes I get wrapped up in work and fall into the trap of giving outsized importance to small details, of treating every deadline like an emergency. Being out there with large birds oblivious to my presence put certain things into a different perspective, made some tasks more manageable.
That is why I think it is so beneficial to spend time outdoors — nature invites us to drop our shields and to adjust the size of elements of our life, weigh them differently, to view time as a dimension in which we thrive, rather than a scarce resource we are ever trying to obtain. Get out in nature more in 2022, get lost in familiar places again and again. Find your balance there.
Simona Carini (she/her) shares photographs of her outdoor explorations (and of food) on Instagram www.instagram.com/simonacarini.