Between the COVID-19 pandemic and a presidential election deeply dividing this nation, we can all probably agree on thing: These are crazy times – unprecedented, extraordinarily crazy times.

After writing about Randy Hoffman’s talk at the virtual Rotary meeting last week and his book, “When Things Happen,” I took his advice walked two miles in a conservancy nearby Saturday morning.

“When Things Happen” deals with phenology, the timing of natural events as they pertain to the climate. A Waunakee resident, Randy knows these well after a career with the state Department of Natural Resources. Randy mentioned the cognitive benefits of spending time in nature, along with the overall health benefits.

As I walked, I focused my attention on the Yahara River flowing, the sun as it illuminated the dewy grass and leaves, the trees and the early autumn flowers. I left feeling completely recharged after a busy workweek, full of energy to enjoy a weekend without emails, ringing phones and deadlines.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had passed away the evening prior, and a political battle was brewing over when to appoint her replacement, but that was OK after this walk.

Randy had talked a lot about studies done on the cognitive benefits of nature, and a Google search brought up hundreds, many at prestigious universities like Harvard and Yale.

One article published in the American Psychological Association journal noted that just looking out of a window at trees and watching birds and squirrels is enough to recharge the mind.

One study had participants engage in 40 minutes of either walking in an urban setting, reading a book or a magazine or walking in a local nature preserve. Afterwards, those who walked in the nature preserve performed better on a standard proofreading task. The studies also found spending time in nature helps improve mood.

Urban planners have taken note, and new development areas now include some green space as well. Fortunately Waunakee offers a number of green spaces. Castle Creek Conservancy, the Bolz Conservancy, Schumacher Farm Park are a few, and in Westport, Holy Wisdom Monastery, Gov. Nelson State Park and Jackson Landing are others. In Springfield, Pheasant Branch Conservancy offers miles of trails to run and walk in a natural setting.

Now, more than ever, our minds need restoration. With wildfires burning out west, rising numbers of COVID cases and divisive politics, the news is bad lately, and we have constant, uninterrupted access to it through our phones.

While we have a responsibility to remain informed, we owe it to ourselves to shut out the news sometimes and give our minds a break. And by doing so, we can approach all that bad news more rationally and productively.

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