July challenge: Immerse

Chances are if you subscribe to this newsletter you’re a fan of the natural world. Oceans, forests, lakes, mountains, and deserts are all glorious, not to mention the plants and creatures that live there. Currently I’m rediscovering my love of chipmunks, a creature a friend of a friend said “even Walt Disney could not improve on.” But as much as we love nature, we don’t always stay in touch as much as we should. Under the yoke of capitalism, it can be hard for many to carve out the time to amble through a ravine like you did as a child or sit on a park bench and listen to the susurrations of the trees.

This month, though, we will. Why? First, action is easiest and most effective when we’re working on behalf of something we love. And love grows with time, observation, immersion. We won’t all become Mary Oliver, but we can try to cultivate her loving gaze.

But beyond that, nature is so good for you. For your mental health, your mood, and even your very cells! (Studies have shown nature can superpower your natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell that attacks tumours, infections, etc.) Richard Louv, author of 2005’s Last Child in the Woods, found about 60 good studies to support the benefits of green time when he wrote his book; now he says there are about 1,000. Those studies, he notes, “point in one direction: Nature is not only nice to have, but it’s a have-to-have for physical health and cognitive functioning.”

Studies have found that 20 to 30 minutes a day is optimal, though longer is still beneficial. It’s not all about green space, either: I love this piece by Dan Rubinstein on the benefits of time on, in, or near water.

So this month our goal is to make like an Austen-era gentlewoman heading to Bath to take the waters: find some nature and soak in it, maybe literally.

Spend 30 minutes in nature every day

A few years back the David Suzuki Foundation ran a 30 x 30 challenge, asking people to spend 30 minutes in nature a day for 30 days in a row. That’s our goal now. It doesn’t have to be a grand escape or a postcard-perfect vista — it can be as modest as a local parkette, or even taking in gardens on your street. Practise looking closely: What is growing? What does it smell like? How does the light fall? Above all, how did you feel before, during, and after your immersion?

Every week, learn the name of a new plant on your street

Since I became a gardener, my neighbourhood has become infinitely more interesting, at least to me. And a large part of that is just knowing the names of plants. Botany is sort of like learning another language; oh, the joy in a foreign country when you catch a word you understand or can express what you need. I feel more tender towards the plants I know: they’re like old friends I can pick out in a crowd. Learning a name is the beginning of a relationship, and our relationships with the natural world — like our human ones — need care and attention.

If you need help playing plant detective, try an app like LeafSnap (free) to help you ID some of your botanical neighbours.

Find something to “collect”

This month as you spend time outdoors, pick something to pay more attention to. It could be birds, a kind of plant or flower, butterflies, or leaf shapes. Make a mental catalogue of that thing, take photos, or keep a list. Right now, I’m at a cottage, and I’m collecting dragonflies. Narrowing your attention to a specific thing can help you look at the same environment in a new way.

Let’s get structural!

To up you impact, sign up for updates from David Suzuki Foundation (national) and your local environmental group. (For Torontonians, that’s the Toronto Environmental Alliance.) They’ll email you periodically with petitions and issues to write your representative about. Of course you can also always donate to these orgs and others.

Don’t just fight for far-off wilderness either: local green space is tremendously important, and it’s something that’s often scarce in underserved neighbourhoods. Everyone should have access to green space, not just people with Muskoka cottages or Tremblant ski chalets.

Wins of the Week

“We’re so often told that art can’t really change anything. But I think it can. It shapes our ethical landscapes, it opens us to the interior lives of others. It is a training ground for possibility. It makes plain inequalities, and it offers other ways of living.” — Olivia Lang, Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency

I love these actions as much as I currently love chipmunks (SO MUCH):

  • Emily and Dan signed up for an energy audit to make use of the Greener Homes Grant! (ICYMI, more on the grant here.)

  • Susannah needs to furnish her new apartment and has been a FB Marketplace queen: she bought a rug, an armoire, an armchair, a wood filing cabinet, and a bookshelf and sold a TV and a shelf!

  • I orchestrated the donation of almost 30 boxes of books, CDs, and DVDs to the library in Bracebridge instead of sending them to the charity shops. Being not at home and on a short time frame can make responsible disposal more daunting, but it’s not altogether impossible. (For more on decluttering responsibly, check out this edition.)

As always, I am saving your triumphs like nuts for the winter! Hit reply or share them in our Facebook group. See you in a fortnight!



Five Minutes for Planet is written by me, Jen Knoch, and edited by Crissy Calhoun. Opening photo by Winston Chen on Unsplash.