Taking Time For A ‘Nature Fix’

Judith Valente
4 min readApr 21, 2024
Woman with backpack walks amid field of bluebells in wooded area.
The Rev. Jane Roeschley walks among the Virginia bluebells in bloom in Humiston Woods Nature Preserve in central Illinois. Experts say even a short time spent in nature can have a beneficial health effect. (Photo by Judith Valente)

For the past two weekends in a row, I’ve spent several hours walking with friends along nature trails in central Illinois, taking in the medley of colors and shapes of the fleeting wildflowers known as spring ephemerals. Each flower has its own distinct personality: from the pale pink of spring beauties to the blood red of the trillium to the creamy white of Dutchman’s breeches and shooting stars, which look remarkably like the things they are named for.

A fine spot for eyeing wildflowers is Humiston Woods, a wonderfully restored savannah of trees and grassland bounded by two bodies of water, Wolf Creek and the Vermilion River, near Pontiac, Illinois. At this time of year, Humiston is blanketed with Virginia bluebells, a flower that emits a sweet perfume whose scent is something like that of the wind after a fresh rain.

One of my walking partners, the Rev. Jane Roeschley, shared a poem by Robert MacFarlane that mirrored our experience of strolling through “flows” of bluebells:

Blue flows at the blue hour:

Color is current, undertow.

Enter the wood with care, my love

Lest you are pulled down by the hue,

Lost in the depths, drowned in blue.

Spending time in nature was just the right antidote for another week full of heartbreaking news. There were Israel’s and Iran’s eye-for-an-eye attacks on each other setting the entire world on edge. Then a report from Sudan about how drought has caused such severe famine most Sudanese — men as well as women, children as well as the elderly — resemble skeletons more than living human beings.

Add to that an expose by the Associated Press on pregnant women being turned away from emergency rooms by medical staff who fear getting prosecuted in states with strict anti-abortion laws, not to mention the continuing senseless death and destruction in Gaza and Ukraine, and the on-going circus that is Donald Trump.

Walking in nature, by contrast, offered a brief respite from the world’s unrelenting chaos — an oasis of bird song, running water and the companionship of trees breathing right along with us. To be sure, turkey vultures circled overhead, seeking prey. And somewhere a bird or insect was likely munching on the defenseless larvae of a monarch butterfly. Yes, a nature preserve isn’t the Garden of Eden. Still, I had the sense of time slowing down. I had no desire to check the time or look at texts on my phone — even if I could get a signal.

Rev. Jane shared something a guide once told her when she was on a pilgrimage to the Scottish island of Iona: “Rushing is violence.”

Unlike city noise, nature sounds such as rushing river water have a calming effect on the mind, scientists are finding. (Photo by Judith Valente)

Journalist and nature writer Florence Williams has written a wonderful book called “The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative.” In engaging detail, Williams lays out how even brief respites in nature — whether in a city or the country — can positively affect our sense of well-being.

“Scientists are quantifying nature’s effects not only on well-being but also on our ability to think — to remember things, to plan, to create, to daydream and to focus,” Williams writes.

Willams says even “quick bursts” of “nearby nature,” such as in a stroll in an urban park or contemplating a tree on a city street, can have a restorative effect on the brain’s neurons. Who needs anti-depressants!

There was a time during our walk in Humiston Woods that my friends and I decided to go off for a time exploring on our own. I found a spot where the water in Wolf Creek was falling over some flat rocks creating a mini-waterfall. Behind me and in front stretched immense beds of bluebells. A distant woodpecker tapped away on the trunk of one of the black locusts and a nearby cardinal kept whistling, “Cheer, cheer, cheer.”

I sat alone, yet felt I was in the midst of community. The bluebells and other spring wildflowers filled me with a sense of renewal, timelessness and pace.

It seemed only appropriate when our group came together again to stop for a prayer. Rev. Jane led us in a traditional prayer to the four directions of the universe, ending with thanksgiving for the earth, “the holy humus from which all planetary life derives,” as well as the “sacramentality and revelatory nature of our planet.”

Toward the end of our walk, we each took a stone and tossed it into the Vermilion River in a simple ritual of casting off some struggle or anxiety that has been simmering inside of us.

Researchers who study how time outdoors affects the brain recommend spending a minimum of five hours a month in nature. If that isn’t possible, any amount of time is better than none.

As we head toward Earth Day, can we take some time to escape from the turmoil of the world, slow down the pace of our lives? Can we take advantage of the medicine of walking in nature? Best of all, it’s free.

Close up of a white trout lily, which resembles a six-pointed star, one of the most familiar spring ephemeral wildflowers.
The white trout lily is one of the lovely spring ephemeral wildflowers. Spending time walking and observing spring wildflowers can fill us with a sense of renewal, timelessness and peace. (Photo by Judith Valente)



Judith Valente

Author of 4 spirituality books & 2 poetry collections. Award-winning reporter for Wall Street Journal, PBS-TV, Washington Post & 2 IL public radio stations.