Wilderness Therapy: Editor’s Letter, December 2012

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A week ago, as the page proofs for this issue started landing on my desk, I found myself staring at the photo that appears on pages 80 and 81. I wasn't mesmerized so much as paralyzed: I was so completely drawn in, it almost seemed like I couldn't move.

And as I sat there staring, I began to wonder what exactly was so absorbing about the photo. It's a simple image of the ocean, equal parts water and ski, stripped of any other elements. Gazing at it placed me on an empty shoreline, and I didn't want to leave. I could actually feel my neck and shoulders relaxing.

I assure you I'm not losing my mind. In fact, the article that accompanies that photo (“Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning“) goes a long way toward explaining the physiological reaction I had to that picture. Humans possess an evolutionary craving for nature, not simply because it's beautiful to look at but because it's incredibly therapeutic. Last December, in our cover story about biologist Wallace J. Nichols, we came across some emerging theories that link time in nature to a person's overall well-being. The notion was intriguing, enough to make us want to return to the topic a year later with a second cover story. What if spending time outside was the antidote to the ills of modern life: cancer, obesity, stress, and the constant, stupefying intrusion of technology into every facet of our existence?

Exploring this question risked taking us to places that might seem “a little too Kumbaya,” as our founder, Larry Burke, likes to say, but when we took a deep dive into the subject, we discovered that scientists everywhere are backing up the notion of a nature cure with indisputable data. Immersing yourself in nature—even for just five minutes—improves brainpower, relieves anxiety, boosts creativity, and even strengthens the immune system.

These findings have obvious implications for our everyday lives, which is why we focus much of our story on what readers can do to get the most out of nature's therapeutic benefits. They also offer a new argument for protecting our natural spaces. For decades, conservationists have relied on selling the altruistic value of wild places, a strategy that doesn't always resonate in an age of intense resource extraction. Discovering that nature has the power to heal could change the economic calculus of land management altogether.

Christopher Keyes