Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Experience the Restorative Power of Nature

from last weekend's play in nature

If you spend your days rushing from one task to another or multi-tasking in an attempt to reach the end of your "to do" list, you could be harming your physical and mental health and damaging your relationship with others. Studies have shown that spending time in nature can be healing, relaxing, restorative and personally beneficial on many levels. With that in mind, perhaps making a reservation at a serene location such as beavers bend cabin lodging should be at the top of your list of things to do.

Physical relaxation

One of the best ways to use your vacation time is to plan a trip to a destination that offers you abundant opportunities to spend time in nature. Activities such as fishing, hiking, biking, horseback riding, canoeing and numerous other activities that put you in the midst of a natural setting can relieve stress. Stress can have a direct impact on your physical health. Once you experience the exhilaration and pleasure that comes from spending time in nature, you can make a commitment to add "personal time outdoors" to your daily or weekly schedule once you return from vacation.

Restoring relationships

When a couple or a family hurriedly goes through each day barely taking time to talk with each other, the relationship suffers. Escaping to a retreat that offers you lots of outdoor family adventure can remind you of how essential it is to regularly set aside time for outdoor family activities. Couples can become disconnected when their schedules leave little time for romantic moments and heart-felt discussions. A secluded cabin in the woods, with a hot tub and fireplace, is the ideal setting to rekindle a romance. Arrive there with no preset plans and simply let nature inspire you and guide you.

Spending time in nature can help you regain perspective. With time to ponder and reflect, you can often see things more clearly. When your body is tired and your mind cluttered with an array of thoughts, it's difficult to focus on an individual situation or make an important decision. A walk in the woods or a day of fishing can clear your mind and help you regain focus. After spending time in nature, you might decide to make some lifestyle changes that allow you to slow down and become more deeply connected with yourself and with those you love.

6 of My Most Favorite Experiences in a National Park

In celebration of the 99th birthday of the National Park Service, which was last Tuesday, August 25, 2015, let me share here 6 of my most favorite National Park Experiences. These are the memories that definitely sent my heart pounding, struck me stronger and where they revisit me more than the other experiences.
My top 6 favorite National Park Experiences

1. Hiking the Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Me at Cedar Ridge, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

I won't deny that that probably the grandest view of the Grand Canyon is at the driving viewpoints at the rim, so why would we endure leg killer hike and the physical exhaustion of hiking more than 16 miles with 5000 ft descent/ascent?

Personally, if probably I only viewed Grand Canyon from the top, I may not find the experience as one of my most memorable experiences in a National Park to be listed in this post. I must say that I have deeper appreciation and felt a stronger connection to Grand Canyon after I scaled its depth from the rim down to the river. It's very hard to explain the joy I found every step of the way in hiking the Grand Canyon. Deep down the canyon, one could see so much more the very diverse life in a desert, and could see so much more of how Grand Canyon beautifully tells our Earth's history. 
some of the images from our Grand Canyon hike
For me, viewing Grand Canyon from the top is seeing its grandness, which thankfully, that is available to everyone who visits Grand Canyon. Hiking down is understanding in every detail why Grand Canyon is considered to be the greatest geological showcase on Earth. As we went deeper into the canyon, I felt I was digging deeper into the natural history of the Earth hidden in those layers of rock. 

The Grand Canyon hike was not only a mental and physical endurance test, it was so much more than that. An experience I know I will forever be thankful of, and the memories will continue to knock on my heart from time to time bringing so much happiness and inspiration. 

2. Hiking Harding Icefield Trail, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
Me, Above Exit Glacier, one of the many outflowing glaciers of Harding Icefield, and looking through Nanutaks ( or glacial islands ), Kenai Fjords National Park, AK

Just like hiking the Grand Canyon, the memories of this hike will forever beautifully haunt my memories and inspire my senses. From the face of its outflowing glaciers to the end of the trail, I felt like indeed I was taking the giant staircase towards the Ice Age. Like the Grand Canyon hike which is not all about rocks, Harding Icefield hike is not all about ice. There's so much diversity in this hike that helps us take a closer look at our interconnectedness.  Like Grand Canyon, this hike is not only a test of physical fitness and endurance, but provides so much life's lessons that draws the heart to it during our entire journey. 

From the start of the trail at the valley floor, to the end of the trail, the joy was so unexplainable as I see for myself the changes which before I only read in books. Changes such as the change in vegetation as we go higher, understanding the tree line, and how other forms of life such as us are supported by the presence of  these thick layers of ice. 
some of the images from our Harding Icefield hike
This hike was both joyful and spiritually moving. Nowhere in our travels before had we seen a place like Harding Icefield, which to us was like a walk on the moon. We could not contain our joy that brought us jumping many times, jumping that felt like flying. Could you see me flying in one of the pictures above? That was from the joy we found in the hike. At the same time, it was so spiritually moving. The vast ice surrounding us, the brutal frigid wind, the overwhelming silence where we could hear the glacier cry ( or hear the flow of the melting glacier ) and the roaring of the river and the waterfalls coming from the melting ice was pounding my heart more than the uphill struggle of hiking through rocks and ice. 

Looking at the turquoise blue I saw the fragile beauty of the Earth. Listening to the cracking and melting of glacier, was like listening to her cries, where her tears we meet through river streams and the ocean where we swim. It was hard not to say a prayer, a prayer of thanksgiving, a prayer of surrender, a prayer of silence, for I know God listens through the beatings of our heart, and that, hopefully, we all work together towards a healthier and happier Mother Earth. Nature may survive and endure without us, but we can not survive without her. 

3. Hiking the Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah
Virgin River, the trail of the Narrows hike, Zion National Park
Unlike Grand Canyon and Harding Icefield, this hike borders more on "FUN" than physically challenging. For me, this was my most fun hike. I guess, it is my affinity for river streams that made me enjoy the hike from start to finish, and where I simply forget about the educational part of this trip, haha! Most of the time, whenever we hike, I connect it with learning, I can't help it being a teacher of Math and Science which abound so much in nature around us. But in this hike, I forgot about the Science, all I know I was traversing in the river of FUN!! And oh well, how much fun it was!! Though of course, I did learn a lot from this hike, but the learning did not come until probably we were back home, as I recall the memories and what were happening in our hike. 
Fun, and More Fun during the Narrows Hike
If the criteria of choosing my most memorable experiences in a National Park is simply about having the most fun, no doubt this would be my number one. I was so fascinated by the majestic curves of the canyon that was shaped by the river. And unlike other canyons where the river has dried already and I could no longer see the action of water, in this hike, we are seeing and experiencing the Virgin River which continually shapes Zion National Park. Notice how we are so goofy in the above pictures, somehow, the very powerful force that was present on us during the hike was spelled F-U-N!! One of those rare hikes that I do not take a close look at the colors of the rock wondering what minerals may be present and what chemical reactions are presently taking place ( I know, I have so much nerdy tendencies ), instead, I was more like, "yey, there's so much water in the desert!! Who says the desert is dry?!!! The desert is AMAZING!!!"

4. Glacier Calving, Aialik Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
Glacier Calving, Aialik Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
Some of my chosen experiences in this post is about fun, some more about a walk in time learning of Earth's history in rocks and ice, this experience for me was more spiritual than fun. I know I may have shed some tears as I watched and listened to the glacier cry during our hike in Harding Icefield. 

Experiencing the glacier carving froze me, and where for a moment, I could not hear what the National Park guide was explaining to us in the boat. I was just like frozen there, overwhelmed by the cracking, roaring, and rumbling sound of the falling ice, which was many times louder than a thunder. As tears were flowing down my face, I had to wipe them off secretly since I was too embarrassed to be seen crying. But it's just me, I am easily drawn emotionally of what I see that sometimes I don't even know why tears are falling. What I learned from glacier calving is how wildlife could lead us to safety, something probably that we may have learned already before.

Before the calving happened, maybe a few seconds before the sound surprised us, birds that were before flying into the mountains were flying away from it. To me, they know of something to happen because they are so used to listening and feeling Earth to their safety and advantage, which we as humans may not be comfortable of. I know a lot of humans are not comfortable of silence, when they hear no sound, they keep on talking, and talking so they forget about their fears of silence, which sadly makes us also forget to listen to what nature tells us. 
Before, During and After Glacier Calving, Aialik Bay, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
Witnessing glacier calving however was not all about sadness that the ice is melting and that the glacier is hollow. As what the naturalist guide shared to us, the harbor seals and the sea otters would benefit greatly from the ice fall. Indeed, with God, there is a very beautiful purpose for everything. These smaller sea creatures actually use the icebergs that flow out from the glacier as their safe overhaul away from their predators such as bears and killer whales because they don't usually hunt on ice-choked fjords. The fjord is the sanctuary of these wildlife making the fjords actually the richest assemblages of life on Earth. 

My number 2, and number 4 experiences are so much connected because it is in the same park, Kenai Fjords National Park. One was hiking to see the massive field of ice above, and one was by boat to see the behavior of the bottom ice, and how they help maintain a balance of life here on Earth. 

The memories of Aialik Glacier calving continues to linger in me, because its dynamic changes serves as a very good example of why everything has a purpose, a beautiful purpose, despite sometimes it may appear as not. 

5. First Experience of a Grizzly Bear on a Hike, Grinnell Glacier Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana
Grizzly Bear, Glacier National Park, Montana ( photo not taken during that hike, but on that same day near the trail head of the encounter )

Perhaps, this is the experience that pounded my heart the most. At first, it was more of fear, then, next, was more of excitement, on seeing we are actually very safe when the bear walked away from us. It was then I realized, that true enough, bears don't mean to harm us, they are more afraid of us than us of them. However, when we catch them by surprise, that is when they could attack humans, as their instinct to defend themselves. 

When we hiked here. we saw Park Ranger ahead of us. Park Rangers were actively monitoring the area because of sightings of bear in the trail. We were told to always make noise ( which we do, our singing talent comes out on hikes like these where we may encounter bears), and carry a bear spray. And if we see bears, we SHOULD NOT RUN as that will shock them. Instead, we should aim to appear taller and slowly walk backwards so that they will know we are not a threat. No one was running away very thankfully ( who would run when the other hikers would keep on saying, STAY DON'T RUN, SLOWLY WALK BACKWARDS IF YOU MUST BUT DON'T RUN), thus the bear simply walked away from us until it was nowhere of our sight. 

In this hike, I realized:
1. No man is an island. I always love people in the trail because they are so friendly, and calm, and very very helpful. 
2. That a family who hikes and sings together, bonds stronger. 
3. That we don't let our fears stop us, instead, we let our fears teach us to manage and overcome them so we could move on and explore life more beautifully and healthily. 
4. I could forget about photography. The picture above was not taken during that encounter, but when we were driving away from the trailhead already, with a 400 mm lens, and further cropped. I did take pictures of the bears in the trail, but that was when they were at a distance I know they couldn't get to us because they were far up on the mountain at the other side of the river. 

6. Experiencing the Action and Colors in Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park
I thought after seeing all the erupting geysers and all the beautiful lakes and waterfalls at Yellowstone, I could not be more awed anymore. I thought I have seen the best, of what I came for. But I was wrong. 

As we were approaching this geothermal feature, we passed by a river, a waterfall, and a Crater Geyser, which all of them took my breath away. I did not want to leave  the Crater Geyser for it was just so fascinating to see. But then, when I looked around, I saw a thick blue vapor rising. I was wondering what it was, so with hesitation I left the crater geyser and continued my walk. I am glad I did, for this was my most beautiful experience at Yellowstone.

It felt so unreal what I was seeing that time for I have not seen such action of thermophilic bacteria before that resulted in such a beautiful sight. Just like my other chosen experiences in this post, I froze for a bit, overwhelmed by such beautiful feature of Earth in front of me. My heart was singing thanksgiving and praises, and at the same time taking joy to every passersby who would show equal admiration and saying, "ahh, heaven on Earth!". It's only after a while of letting the experience sink in that I slowly dug my camera from my backpack and took pictures to help me bring these so joyful memories home.

I am so glad and grateful for these experiences, for they directed me away from things. Though I am not denying the fact that we do buy things, but most often, they are to help us gain better experiences when we go outside to explore, to make our experiences more pleasant, not frightening that will cause us to fear and not explore nature.

There are so much benefits to exploring nature. For me, all I know is that my Flonase, Proventil, Claritin, and other maintenance medications I used to be dependent on when I was younger now simply expires because I hardly need them since I started to pick up Nature Rx as medicine. 

Also, I used to whine before a day or two in a month of being not able to do anything because of very bad stomach cramps, but since I picked up the Hiking Rx to spend with nature, I am very glad to say that there's no wrong time of the month anymore to go hiking and exploring nature. 

Bouts of allergies,asthma, monthly pains, migraines, are becoming less and less the more I take the natural prescription of Nature, which thankfully I don't feel I am getting overdosed.

And the more I take Nature, the more joyful memories I have that I could flip through whenever I need lots of doses of it.