We don’t need to tell you that living smack in the middle of an urban environment is a vibrant and remarkable experience for yourself and your family. You already know it.
We also don’t need to tell you that interactions with nature are immensely valuable in reducing stress, lifting moods, boosting creativity, and encouraging child development. The science has already told us that.
The challenge comes as we find ourselves geographically disconnected from nature, especially if we live in a place with no access to a yard or multiple stories above the ground. But it is possible to love the hum and hubbub of the city and maintain a connection to the earth. It might take a bit more effort and creativity than just opening the back door and running out to play, but urban life is compatible with enjoying nature.
Maintaining a connection with the earth can be as simple as taking a nature walk, and you might be surprised at how many pockets of nature you can find in within your beloved city.
Know your nature
Interacting with nature will be so much easier if we have a sense for where to go in our city or neighborhood to find it. It may be as close as the backyard or rooftop, or might mean walking a block or two to a pocket park, green space, or community garden. Memorizing a route to the nearest big city park (or state park or forest preserve if there’s one nearby) means we’ll know exactly how to get there.
Building a mental map of nature spots makes it easier to plan errands and walks around those locations. Returning to the same locations can be particularly helpful in making a connection with nature. Picking a favorite tree or favorite park bench helps give a sense of place and ownership of your experience with nature, and you can use it as your home base for watching the seasons change.
Nature Walks in Every Season
Engaging with nature in the spring is often easy to do because we’ve been waiting for the reappearance of green all winter long. Take notice of the awakening by picking a few favorite nature spots and returning to them each week.
Watch the patches of grass next to the sidewalk turning from brown to green. Visit a community garden or the nearest park and look for new green shoots coming up from the earth. Examine tree branches for tiny buds, blossoms, and baby leaves. Plant your own seeds in a flower pot on your stoop and care for them as they grow. Smell spring as it blooms. As the days grow longer, your nature walks can grow longer too!
Summer is iconic in the city. Life is happening outdoors everywhere we look! Public places are bursting with life and the spaces outside our homes feel as much like home as the space inside our walls. Spending time outdoors is an easy decision in the summer, but sometimes our time is rushed getting from one event to the next. To fully take in the beauty of this season, sometimes we need to slow down.
Set aside a free afternoon and take a stroll through the neighborhood park. Name the colors you see, and count how many animals also call the park home. Visit a favorite tree and sit under it to watch and listen to the birds singing in the branches. Collect sticks and and feel the coolness of the dirt. Go barefoot! Let the summer sun bring you warmth and joy.
The crisp air of autumn is often a welcome relief from the heat of summer. The earth seems to slow its pace and as nature begins to conserve energy, we find ourselves doing the same. With autumn comes the return of school schedules and familiar routines; making space for nature walks during this season can become a regular event for your family.
Take the long way home from school or work and observe the animals gathering and storing the fruits of the earth. Watch the leaves of your favorite trees in the neighborhood turn golden and crimson and fall to the ground. Visit the farmers market and appreciate the bounty of the earth, or make a harvest from your own urban garden. Look for tiny seeds (like those in a dandelion puff) at the park and marvel at how much energy is packed inside waiting for next spring. Autumn has a beauty all its own!
Nature walks are an afterthought for many of us during the winter season. The earth seems to be asleep, and so do our furry and feathered friends. Interacting with nature takes an extra dose of curiosity on a winter day and an extra layer or two of clothing. Dress warmly and keep moving and you might be surprised at how enjoyable a winter nature walk in the city can be!
Visit your favorite park and see if you can spot animal tracks in the snow. Look for berries or nuts that some plants preserve for furry friends when food is scarce in the winter. Huddle under the branches of an evergreen tree and inspect its needles and pinecones. Examine the branches of trees along the street and imagine how much energy they’re saving as they lie dormant waiting for spring. Nature isn’t dead in the winter, it’s just resting!
Nature experiences all year long
Engage with nature all year long by becoming a regular at the local farmers market. Sourcing food from a local grower and taking the time to cook it properly is a perennial way to connect with nature while aiding and benefiting from farmers near your city. Make it a game to pick fruits and veggies in a variety of colors and eat the rainbow! You’ll be getting an abundance of nutrients and there’s a good chance the experience will help you learn to love your food.
It’s one thing to read the research about the benefits of spending time in nature and the ways it softens and sustains our urban environment. It’s another thing to experience it for ourselves. As urban families, we sometimes have to seek out opportunities to engage with the earth, especially if we don’t have daily access to a yard of our own. No matter the season, taking a nature walk through our own neighborhoods is a simple way to purposefully connect with nature.
With time, your nature spots can become an extension of your home, and “connecting with nature” won’t be just an abstract idea to read about. It will be a way of life.