Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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August 06 2013

How to Turn Your Nature Deficit Into a Nature Surplus

By Mark Sisson
87 Comments

SequoiasThis summer I got an unmistakable itch. A yearning. A calling. It happens every summer. I start getting these admittedly ridiculous, unrealistic, impossible, and yet somehow still unavoidable and alluring thoughts about ditching civilization for a little cabin in the woods somewhere. Maybe a plot of land, some chickens, some livestock (not sure what, maybe cows, goats, and sheep, maybe a pig or two). There’s a river running through it, too, or at least a babbling brook, leading up to a big blue lake that you can see right through to the bottom even though it’s hundreds of feet deep. And trees everywhere, towering green giants that cover the sky and leave just enough room for me to stargaze and spot oncoming storms.

Or maybe it’s the jungle, or the beach, or the desert. Point is: I get this powerful urge to leave civilization behind and strike out for the wild of nature.

This is just a fantasy for me. I’ve never seriously considered taking the plunge and striking out, off the grid. I love my life, I relish my work, I like the creature comforts afforded by modern society, and I love my friends and family. Wouldn’t give that last one up for the world, especially. Why, then, do I still yearn for the wild?

We can’t live without nature. That’s why.

And I don’t mean in the sense that we obtain the very resources on which our lives depend from nature – food, water, shelter, fuel – although that’s true, too. What I mean is that without regular exposure to nature, even if “nature” is just going outside for some fresh air, a person can’t live a full, complete, happy life. It’s evident to me that for humans, like other animals, nature is the “default” environment. It’s the norm. It’s not that spending time in the woods reduces blood pressure, boosts immunity, and lowers stress, as seen in the forest bathing studies. It’s that spending too much time in cities and suburbs raises blood pressure, lowers our immune function, and increases stress. Nature exposure simply restores the normal physiological functions impaired by exposure to civilization. The end result is the same either way – better health – but thinking of nature as the norm and civilization as the aberration underscores the importance of the connection between people and nature and highlights just why nature is so vital for our health and well-being.

I’m not just listening to my gut here, either, nor am I basing my assertions entirely on a personal sentiment I might have. There exists a wide and growing body of scientific evidence supporting my position.

Some skeptics of the importance of the link between human health and nature have claimed that physical activity explains the association. In other words, the only reason green spaces are linked to improved health is that people who have access to green space are more likely to be active. It’s a compelling argument, but a recent study just determined that while some of the cardiovascular health improvements associated with urban green space are due to increased physical activity, it can’t explain all of them.

In one of the coolest pieces of research, one recent study measured the brain responses of people touching different things, including foliage from a plant, synthetic foliage made to feel like the real thing, a piece of fabric, and a piece of aluminum. They also asked the subjects to describe their feelings when touching the various objects. When people touched the metal, they evinced cerebral brain flows indicative of a stress response. When people touched the real leaf, they experienced a calming effect, but didn’t consciously realize it was occurring. The way they described how they felt didn’t change. So, it wasn’t just a subjective perception of relaxation. An actual connection to nature was happening on a physiological, measurable level, showing that our bodies know the difference between manmade and natural. Almost like we’ve evolved some intrinsic interface with the great outdoors, eh?

So, today, I want you to start addressing the nature deficit in your lives. We all have one. Consider this a call to arms, and use this opportunity to make a statement of intent, a declaration of your plans to address the issue and turn your deficit into a surplus.

Remember that nature isn’t just “green.”  You don’t have to plumb the depths of the deep forest, necessarily. Nature is also blue – rivers, lakes, oceans, creeks. In fact, “urban blue” is an emerging focus for researchers interested in the effects of nature exposure and human health. Nature is also brown – deserts, prairies, beaches. Nature can be wildly colorful, too – jungles, meadows full of wildflowers. Nature is darkness, as well. Some of my strongest memories come from simply looking up on a clear black night to watch the universe unfold itself before me. What’s important here is getting a respite from civilization, from steel and concrete and car horns and WiFi and emails. 

Explore less mainstream areas. A perfect example of this is Yosemite National Park in Northern California. Usually when I go, I make it a point to avoid Yosemite Valley. Sure, the valley is where all the big attractions are, like Half Dome, El Capitan, and the Mist Trail, but it’s also where all the tourists go. To most people, Yosemite is Yosemite Valley. But me? I like to go along Tioga Pass, which runs above the valley in the high country and has a ton of really cool stuff. Beautiful vistas, Lake Tenaya, Tuolumne Meadows, Lembert Dome, and several really great campgrounds that tend not to fill up, even in high season. The valley is certainly worth checking out, but sitting in a traffic jam is not my idea of “getting away.”

Try to incorporate a bit of nature into your life every single day. This doesn’t require moving out to the sticks. Luckily, we can fool ourselves with approximations or phantoms of the real thing. Do some gardening out back or on your windowsill. Buy some houseplants. Go for a walk in the park. Take a nap in the grass. Listen to some nature sounds as you work or try to sleep.

Spend the better part of a day in the outdoors at least once a week. You might have to drive an hour or two. You might have to settle for a local park, or even your backyard. Whatever you do, just try to fully immerse yourself in some natural setting for at least one day a week. You don’t lose or anything if you can’t make it happen, of course. Just think of this as a goal to shoot for.

Make time for extended nature-inspired trips several times a year. A few times a year, spend two or more days getting dirty, building fires, camping, hiking, swimming, fishing, hunting, snorkeling, climbing, surfing, snowboarding, or just generally roughing it in whatever manner the season, location, and climate allows. For some people, this will be a safari in South Africa. For others, it’ll be a camping trip to the local lake.

Just do it. We usually have the idea that diet and exercise are the ultimate arbiters of health. If you’re talking body composition, yes, I’d agree. But if you take mental and spiritual health into account, I don’t think we can think of nature exposure as extra-curricular or optional. It’s absolutely vital. Don’t skip this stuff. Make the effort, just like you make the effort to avoid grains, refined sugar, and vegetable oils.

Okay, that’s it for my spiel. As you can tell, I care about this issue, and I think you should, too.

Now, let’s hear from you. Where are you going to go? What steps are you going to take to get more nature in your life? Let me and everyone else know in the comment section! Thanks for reading!

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87 thoughts on “How to Turn Your Nature Deficit Into a Nature Surplus”

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  1. Nothing beats a long walk in the real woods or along the ocean. Citys can be gorgeous, but if I don’t take a break it’s depressing.

  2. It never fails to amaze me how messing around with my houseplants and potted flowers makes me feel calmer and happier. I love just touching them and feeling that connection. It’s really nice to see that there’s research backing that up. Thanks Mark!

  3. That’s my dilemma in a blog post! Grew up in the country and spent most my free time outdoors, living in the big city now… So I’ve been cultivating the heck out of my small yard and making as many trips as I can to the woods and beaches. Started reading Last Child in the Woods, and it’s a kick in the pants–get yourself and especially your kids outdoors!!

    1. I can appreciate this dilemma. We’re in the suburbs, but I still would rather live in the sticks. We just got tired of being poor, honestly. Urban poverty gets all the press, but if you don’t have the advantage of a farm/forestry land/needed business in those quaint little towns, there’s not much happening job or (life!) wise. Many rural communities struggle with drug problems for that very reason. Add to that my husband is in IT and it’s very helpful to be part of a larger community.

      We at least picked a house with a large lot on the edge of current development. It helps to drive 5 minutes and find yourself out of Walmart Land.

      1. It’s true communing with nature is one of life’s most wonderful offerings. Lucky for me I have a few people in my life who think the same. They like me think spending half a day walking up a mtn and the other walking down is a good thing. Walking, hiking is also a good way to spend time with another human being. It’s natural, cost-free and you get to spend hours together without any of the usual distractions.

  4. For a big hit ::camping. Can’t beat it. Even with 5 kids.

    For small doses: hanging clean laundry out, weeding the path at the same time, chasing toddlers round the garden, staring at creepy crawlies, watering plants, cups of coffee in the sunshine,. Outings to the park, picnics…just realised all my nature fixes revolve around my children!

  5. I would love to take a nap in the grass, but here in the south there are just too many fire ants and various other bugs. I might settle for a hammock though 🙂

    I’ll seriously make an effort to spend most of one day outside a week as well as some time daily. I like to take me and my 7mo baby outside first thing in the morning to get that delicious sun exposure. Thanks for posting this Mark!

    1. Even though I’m in Michigan, I agree with you about the bugs. I can’t lay on the grass for 60 seconds without feeling like I’m being overrun by bugs. It’s probably just the individual leaves of grass touching me, but I get the creepy crawlies every time. No problem walking around in nature, but give me a hammock for lying down, please.

  6. I am a high-tech telecommuter, living deep in acres and acres of national forest with views out my office window of nothing but treed hills and valleys, with nary a single other human dwelling in my view. Only three neighbors within a mile (and that’s as the crow flies).

    My spouse and young children are in another part of the house as I work.

    Several times per year, my work requires my travel into a very dense urban location. The first couple days are usually fun and exciting, but after that I’m longing for my home with less people, less cars, less commotion, less commutes.

    It’s not less noise, though. The tree frogs are absolutely deafening at night to the point that your ears may ring after you’ve watched the millions of stars that are just impossible for your colleagues to see from their urban homes.

    We worked hard to get to the point where we could balance modern technology, creature comforts, family, and a large buffer of nature. I have much less stress as a result.

    1. Tell me about it! The “not less noise” part. I live in a semi-rural area. We have toads in the area that make a shrill “breee” noise. Right now, the annual cicadas are out. The description I find for their sound is “sounds like a buzz saw,” which is fairly accurate. Then there are the frogs, other toads, crickets and assundry bugs and birds, including geese, dogs and cats (mine and other people’s), the cattle next door…. It’s quieter in the winter, but by no means quiet.

    2. I was hiking yesterday and the cicadas were nearly deafening.

  7. I’ll be relaxing at the Oregon Coast in just two more weeks:). We love taking our kids there. We get to stay there for seven days. It is very peaceful and refreshing! The first year we went I realized half way through I was still carrying stress from my daily life. I’ve trained myself now to purposely let all my stress go away on the first day with the first sound of the waves:) The best distress exercise for me is to think about all the things/people I’m thankful for and breathe in all the beauty and awe of the ocean landscape.

    1. I was born & raised in Los Angeles and escaped 30-years ago to a rural town on the Oregon Coast. I’ve been to many beaches on the west coast and can honestly say the best one is in my backyard. Very blessed!

      What area of the coast are you staying at?

      1. A beach in your backyard! That is awesome:) We are staying just outside of Waldport. It’s 20 minutes south of Newport.

        1. Chances are you will be staying in my neighborhood. (Bayshore) The majority of homes are vacation rentals, we are one of the few who live here full time. Let me know if you need anything.

  8. A few months ago I did it. I acted on the urge Mark talks about here – left the city and moved to a hobby farm in the country. The best thing I’ve ever, ever done.

    1. It’s possible to go this direction with money/wealth earned in a big city. Quite often a good job (if it’s a telecommute enabled) can come too. My experience is that it’s much harder to start in the sticks and really get anywhere — we tried for close to a decade. The money/careers are in the modern metro areas.

  9. This is very interesting… i live and work in the middle of a city… i actually cant remember the last time i left… a month ago maybe? i could really use some country action in a serious way. i do walk through a huge park twice daily on my way to and from work, so, at least thats something 🙂

    1. You could also do like Mark suggested and buy some houseplants… I have several at the office. Most, but not all, are really pretty easy to grow, even if you think you don’t have a green thumb and even if you don’t have any windows. I once worked in basement office, with no windows and we had several large houseplants. Nobody was really bothered by the lack of windows either. Most, but not all, houseplants are tropical plants and require several hours of indirect light a day (meaning the room is bright enough to read in) florescent lighting works quite well for this purpose.

      Getting the water reqirements right can be tricky for some people. The 2 most common ways to kill a houseplant are over and under watering. The best rule of thumb that I have heard is that your plant needs water if you can stick a finger in the soil up to your first or second joint and the soil is still dry, your plant needs water. Many plants are forgiving and will bounce back if you forget to water them and they begin to droop every now and then. In most cases, if the leaves are turning yellow, you’re watering too much, back off a little. Unless it’s an English Ivy, then if the leaves are yellow, it’s too little water and if the leaves are brown, it’s too much water. Totally backwards from most houseplants, which is why mine died.

      I usually buy the smallest plants I can, then move them to bigger pots as they grow. I like to get the cheap terra cotta pots and paint them with craft paints. I’m not much of an artist, but I enjoy it, and I’ve come up with some intersting blended color patterns, stripes, and swirls.

  10. There’s nothing like fresh air, and lots of beautiful, various colors of nature. On that note, I can’t wait to go to the beach!

  11. Surfing. That’s my quiet time with nature. There’s nothing like it. It teaches you patience and at the same time there’s something calming about the wind, the birds, the waves, the dolphins, and the sunsets (or sunrises). In Southern California, sometimes it’s the only isolation I can get from the city around me.

  12. Love this post Mark.

    As an outdoorsmen, I enjoy hunting and fishing throughout northern Wisconsin and the yearly Wyoming hunting trip. Yes, I get to fill my freezer with all sorts of protein rich wild game. But, often over looked in the mental health benefits that I get from spending most of my weekends and some weeks in the northwoods living in a cabin amongst nature. Life slows to a crawl and with that the mind gets clearer.

    Living a week in the Wyoming mountains, prairie or in Wisconsin’s northwoods makes you realize that we don’t ‘need’ a lot of those conveniences that we have in our day to day sped up lives.

    I get to spend time in the woods most of the year, including our bitterly cold winters. And while I always try to fill my freezer, the mental health benefits are what I’m really after.

    1. We’re going to bring our sleeping bags out to the shores of Lake Superior this week to see if we can catch a glimpse!

  13. I’ve been very fortunate that I have never lived more than a handful of minutes from the country side, even though I’ve lived in a major metro area of well over 1,000,000 people since 1997. I’ve always taken advantage of that by taking long drives into rural areas and when I was in grad school in a much smaller town, I rode my bicycle on those excursions.

    My wife and I bought the first house lot we looked at simply because we lucked out and found one where our back yard is adjacent to the common area with a large pond, trees and several walking paths!

    I absolutely agree, you can take the man (or woman) out of nature but you can’t take nature out of the man.

  14. SHHHH!! Mark, don’t tell people about the “Real Yosemite!” They’ll all go over there and ruin that too!! Just kidding… (kind of). I had never been to the Yosemite Valley at the Nat’l Park until last year – very disappointing, at least during the day. So many cars and people… it felt like Disney. The only time I enjoyed it was the day we left for home, we took off at about 4 a.m. and as we drove through the Valley, there was this huge, full moon – it was downright mystical. It felt like we were in an Ancel Adams photograph. We stopped the car and all got out and walked out into a meadow and just hung out, not talking for about 30 minutes. There was no one there but us and it was so quiet!!. It’s one of those memories I re-live over and over in my head 🙂

    I grew up in Sonora, California and spent many hours up at Tuolumne Meadows, Sonora Pass, and all around that part of the Sierra – it is unbelievably beautiful. I feel so very lucky to have been able to enjoy so much time there as a kid, and now I live in the amazing Pacific NW and feel so lucky and blessed to be here as well! Nothing makes me happier than getting out and experiencing the joys of nature.

  15. Even if you are just walking by tree’s planted in your business park you work at, make it a habit to reach out and touch it with your finger tips!

  16. I have the privilege of living in a Northern Arizona town heavly forested. I love that I can go a very short distance and be in the middle of no where. I do feel blessed. You don’t realize the effects of the city dwelling until I need to head South and find myself in urban sprawl. It is nice for the day or two then I am loosing my mind and wanting to be up North. I don’t know if I could do that “urban” life style again. I never say never, but that would be pretty close!

  17. Hi Mark – agree 100% about Yosemite surroundings. Had 3 trips in the 70’s as a young climber aiming to do some of the big faces (El Cap, Half Dome etc.) but always out of the main tourist season, and had wonderful experiences to last a lifetime. Took my son last July but stayed in Mammoth Lakes and drove into Tuolumne most days to walk the trails (Clouds Rest etc) and do some small climbs, again it was wonderful. Made the pilgrimage into The Valley on the last day and was reasonably horrified at the contrast with all the crowds and commercialism. Nevertheless, we hiked the Upper Falls trail and got a buzz from passing loads of said tourists at a good clip – then made our way back to the quietness and beauty of the high country around Tenaya Lake with a sigh of relief. Next time it will be well out of season when we visit!

  18. We left our small town nearly twenty years ago for the SF bay area and are heading home next year to get away from the stress. Won’t miss it at all!

  19. Three years ago I moved to a small village on the Maine Coast. The view out of my window is of a meadow dotted with mature trees leading down to the ocean. Off on one side is a 200-year-old farmhouse, beautifully restored. Some sailboats cruising around. Chirping insects and some chattering birds. Yes, I am loving life. I was fortunate to be able to find a decent job here in nowhere land. When I do return to the city and suburbs to visit family and friends, I can’t wait to get back.

    1. Maine is beautiful. The natives that surround you, though, probably aren’t as fortunate in the job department. 🙁

  20. We just returned from a weekend of backpacking. We set up base camp at a meadow with a babbling stream and dayhiked up to deep, clear, pristine mountain lakes full of trout. We went to bed and woke with the sun. Leaving the mountains is always bitter-sweet for me. It is great to come home to a warm shower, comfy bed, and fresh food, but I immediatly miss the beauty and simplicity of life in the woods.

  21. I attribute my affinity for the outdoors to a much brighter outlook on life. My down-in-the-dumps peers need to stop going from door-to-door! A.k.a. from house door, to car door, to office door, to health club door, to store door, etc.

  22. I recently attended a presentation given by astronaut Sandra Magnus about her experiences on the space station. While her few months in space were obviously incredible in almost every way, she did talk about the sterile environment of the space station. She said they loved the experiments that involved plants simply because it added green to the space station. She also described the overwhelming smell of “Earth” when they opened the space shuttle’s hatch after landing. It would be interesting to see if there’s more research on the effect of long stays in space on astronauts in regards to being removed from nature.

  23. And this is why I love living in Anchorage, AK! I like being in an “urban” area, but I can drive for 15 minutes and honestly be in the forest. Heck, I can hop on the Coastal trail 2 minutes from my apartment and be coasting along beside the forest and the ocean within 10 minutes. I’m with you on this one, Mark–nature plays a HUGE role in our emotional and mental health. Whenever I feel stressed or down, getting out around some trees (or the ocean, or a lake, or a mountain) always makes me feel better.

    I feel super blessed to be living here in Alaska…makes that isolated cabin in the woods somewhere more of a reality.

  24. For me I go WALK 18 holes of golf a couple of times a week. That guarantees I spend 6-8 hours in nature every week while walking about 10 miles with a 20-30 pounds strapped on my back. There was a recent study done that showed that walking golfers live significantly longer than average.

  25. Spent one summer at a biological research camp in the Colorado mountains with no heat, no TV in the days before cell phones. It was one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done. A bear at my door one night stressed me out a little, but overall it was amazing. I do admit though when it’s 95 and humid here in Illinois, I spend a lot of time in the air conditioning. I would take a Colorado vacation any day over Disneyworld, yuck.

  26. A friend of mine took the plunge with hiswife and currently lives OFF THE GRID in northern Canada. They built a wood and mud house using wine bottles for glass windows. They built a “mud oven” and can bake breads ect. They have chickens for fresh eggs and lots of land to grow various greens. When winter hits they take us jobs to buy produce and pay for property and vehicle costs. It is a hard but very rewarding life and the bond they have from the mutual creation is amazing! Next up for them : root cellar.

    1. Technically, they only live part-time off the grid.;) I’ve been attracted to the homesteading lifestyle in the past. Economically, though, it seems to be as you describe: it needs outside income to really make it work with modern lifestyle standards. I suspect if homesteading meant what it meant 130 years ago, the income wouldn’t be necessary. Unfortunately that means no indoor plumbing, no advanced medical care, no vehicles (maybe a horse if you owned enough haying land), no flying, and really no leaving the place other than 2 or 3 runs to “town” a year, whatever that is. In that sense, it’s sort of “hobby” off the grid.

  27. This is why I love Northern California and refuse to move elsewhere. Within reasonable driving distance, I can find a redwood forest, an ocean, and mountains. And it’s all gorgeous.

    1. +1 on NorCal. I love it here and would never think about moving to anywhere else.

  28. I appreciated the article on How to Turn Your Nature Deficit Into a Nature Surplus. There is one serious points that were left out. You didn’t mention the dangers of Lyme Disease and other infections that one can “catch” if you do not take preventive or precautionary measures. PLEASE, PLEASE, educate your readers to not be oblivious to this true danger. Go to http://www.ilads.org/lyme_disease/about_lyme.html
    for more information,

  29. I am more and more drawn to the wilderness as I get older – sounds like you are too, Mark!

    I am close to the beach and driving distance to mountains. Spent a couple weeks in Mammoth area last month and going back in the fall. I wonder about just buying a small condo up there, but then there’s the 5-hour drive… It’s still too far – I need to move closer.

  30. This post has inspired me. I love going to no where places and for suburban us, that’s pretty cheap if we camp. I’m going to make a goal to plan at least 1 long trip a year to No Where, USA (or Canada). 🙂

  31. Perfect timing Mark! My family and I just planned on staying up at our cabin in the deep forest. There is nothing like waking up to birds and spending you day catching frogs in a pond, or following moose prints in the forest! Just be prepared to sprint or climb for your life if you run into bears or moose! 🙂

  32. I’m a cabin in the woods kind of girl living in the big city so I have to find my ways of coping. My backyard is a jungle of trees and bushes which the neighbors hate because racoons and skunks might like the space. Try dealing with your garbage properly ’cause I’m not the one feeding them! Anyway I spend part of most days in my backyard just unwinding. I also find I have to play white noise in the house and at work to cover up all that city noise.

  33. Someone asked me recently when was the last time I saw a caterpillar on a leaf and I couldn’t recall ever seeing this in my recent past.The point was,our daily schedules have become so jam-packed that we fail to notice and appreciate the little things nature has to offer.This is an image I used to see very often while growing up,because then, outdoor life was our life (as opposed to kids nowadays who spend the entire weekend holed up in the room by the console).
    One way I take time to appreciate nature is during the weekends,Saturday to be specific.My Saturday ain’t one without enjoying the outdoors and feeling that breeze on my face.
    Thanks for bringing this up Mark.At times people seem to need that moment of realization to get moving,despite the fact that inside us we know all too well what’s good for us.Because just as the article points out in a nutshell,we are just but mammals,intelligent ones at that.
    By the way,that opening part of the article is strikingly picturesque.Good one!

  34. This is a feeling i know too well, but it reminded me of something.

    Earlier this year, the Perseids meteor shower passed close to W. Canada. so we went up to the peak of a local mountain to get a good view.

    I’m, glad we came early, because it ended up being PACKED. But not just with fellow space nerds like us; there were families with wee kids, teens of all natures, etc. I gotta admit my surprise, but it made me happy to see that most people are still drawn to nature and it’s spectacles.

    Watching everyone from little kids to the local cops staring up and gasping in wonder was some of the best hope for humanity I could have seen in years.

  35. For me it’s all about water. The colours – blue of the river, the green of the lake, the black of the deeps, the gray of the ocean. The sounds – the trickle, the gurgle, the roar, the rhythmic wash. And the smell – the salt, the algae, the ozone. It is all wonderful – beside the ocean waves, near a waterfall or just beside my little garden fountain, I find peace and release in nature’s water.

  36. I can totally relate to this!!! So much so that I bought 7-1/4 acres half of which is virtually untouched forest! I’ve lived there for 4 months and already feel stronger and healthier than I have in years of living in “the burbs” And those night skies…….talk about a light show!!!!

  37. I really need to do more outdoor activities. This post really motivate me! Thanks! I’m so excited! My wedding is in two months and my fiance and I are planning in going to Sedona and the Grand Canyon for two weeks. We are going to go camp in the Havasupai Falls! They’re beautiful! I have to prepare for it though ince we will be hiking for 10 miles before getting there. There are no flushing restrooms or shower rooms, so we will have to use the creek! 🙂 I can’t wait! Has anyone been to hasaupai falls before?

  38. After thinking about it some more, I am grateful to live here in Oregon and work where I do. The grounds where I work are beautiful gardens that have older trees and shrubs as well as wonderful roses. I come in to work and drink in the beauty of the earth, noting the changes in seasons. Sometimes the water droplets on the spiderwebs look just like diamonds. During lunchtime I try to sit with my bare feet on the ground (summer and parts of spring and fall that are warm enough). In the morning most of the spring and summer the sun comes through the grass so that it looks like it’s a bright green light.
    Still want to go camping – either Fort Stevens State Park or Cape Lookout on the coast will do just fine.
    Mark, Like you I dream of a simple small house with enough yard to support a few laying hens and a nice little garden. Future plan at this point, soon I hope.

  39. Oops, sorry for my bad grammar in my previous comment. I’m new here and I’m so excited to be part of this healthy way of living. 😀

  40. I can appreciate what you are saying. I live in the suburbs of Calgary, and I work in the heart of the downtown core… it is rare that I can get out of the city.

    And I do have the same kind of fantasy (although I would not be in a cabin in the woods)… Some day I want to own an acreage with pigs, goats and chickens and enough land to grow our own veggies.

    As a family, we tried camping 2 years running and all agreed that every single one of us HATED it! The only thing we all loved was cooking over a campfire… the rest – no thanks! But we all love hiking and try to get up into the mountains as often as we can.

  41. Hey all, I’m the one who has it all figured out! 🙂 I’m a park ranger living in a national park. (not yosemite) My four year old has been hiking and backpacking more than most adults ever do, and he will not grow up spending his weekends playing video games or on the computer. I realize not everyone can be a park ranger, but I feel very blessed to live the life I do and I try to practice gratitude for it every day.

    1. You go girl! How nice for your little guy! My son got to live in the wild until he was about 4, then we moved closer to town. I miss those days of him playing outside and getting totally dirty, jumping in puddles and exploring the “woods” around our little cabin. He and daddy would go out and lay on the dock and watch the stars, sometimes even see the shooting stars, the water quietly lapping against the dock as the frogs and crikets chattered.

  42. Coincidentally, I just passed on a whole COLLECTION of your posts of this type to my little Paleo/Primal on Facebook group. 8 links I had saved because they really struck home with me.

    So yes, having written a number of natural history books and being Country Living’s staff naturalist for 11 years, I absolutely agree! Thanks for reminding us, as many times as it takes, Mark.

  43. We live with horses, 2 large dogs, chickens and gardens on 3 acres of mature oaks in rural Shasta County CA, it’s a beautiful property with two custom redwood houses on it. Regular primal exercise includes multiple daily walks with dogs off leash, chainsawing and splitting cords of firewood by hand (and constantly shuttling it into house in the winter), loads of tree trimming, hole digging, lawn and garden maintenance etc. Moved here after 14 years in San Francisco in 2001 and telecommuted for 8 years before taking a layoff or early retirement as I call it. Our country property is bigger than a whole city block but the net cost of owning it after renting out the second house was less than the rent on our 500 sq ft apt in SF. Country life is so much cheaper than the city, and cheaper is far less stressful than expensive. Although there is a lot of maintenance it is very peaceful and tranquil unless you’re blasting your surround sound after midnight which is no problem since you have no neighbors in hearing range. There is no need to go off grid, we are on well and septic but looking at getting a solar system in which case we could sell electricity back to PG&E on days we don’t need AC.

    We just got back from RV camping on the NORCAL and OR coast, beautiful and cool. We love the outdoors but hate campgrounds because they jam you all together on top of each other and dogs need to be leashed, we are so far removed from neighbors at home that all the rules and lack of privacy are too much for us, I guess that’s country people’s problems. We boondock as much as possible which is easy in BLM or National Forest lands.
    .
    The best way to get to country life is to find a city job that you can do 100% telecommute, you will prosper in no time with a city income and country expenses, no wardrobe, lunch or commuting expenses. Most jobs in these areas are low wage but some positions that do pay well in rural areas are teaching and health care, nursing in particular.

    We have reached retirement age and our next move is actually outside of the USA. Your best bet for beachfront outdoor living at ridiculously low costs are places like Nicaragua or Thailand which we are researching now, worth looking at if you’re a surfer, diver, kiteboarder etc.

  44. Love this observation …

    ” Luckily, we can fool ourselves with approximations ….”

    It’s exactly those on which I must often rely, being a New Yorker. Funny that just today I was so moved by the beauty of some window boxes I was walking by, that I stopped, took a pic, and tweeted it. Check my stream!

    I’m so city-bound this summer, because of some work I’m doing. Thank goodness for Central Park. Even though the NYC skyline is fully visible from just about anywhere, it can still seem like the wilderness (if you let it).

    All good, Mark. Thanks. (And yeah, I have the cabin fantasy sometimes too.)

  45. So you’d be jealous of the trip I am doing in a few weeks time? 16 days, including 3 nights free camping in deserts, the rest only marginally more civilised camping in remote and arid locations.

    Sure, we spend big chunks of time in the car to get there, but we also spend every evening camping under the stars and have red dust in everything. You can’t beat that feeling of seeing distant horizons in all directions and no-one else around.

  46. My family just moved into a house further from the urban center and a little bit into the hills. We now have deer that visit on a daily basis, and we’re swamped with lizards. It may not be chicken and cows, but it sure feels a lot like getting back to nature. Just watching the deer for 5 minutes a day is terribly relaxing (even while they’re munching our plants, it’s leading me to consider what plants can live in harmony with them).

    Also, though, as a SoCal girl for life, I gotta represent for the value brown. I find the desert terribly soothing and peaceful. It is a place of small and spare beauty amid huge open spaces. I like to get out to Joshua Tree, Death Valley, or Anza-Borrego at least once a year, it really fills my heart.

  47. A great post! This has been my mantra for years. I lgrew up with green-soled feet from barefoot summers but now I live in a city with precious few green spaces and I know that I need to touch uncultivated, real earth with my bare feet as often as possible, and it drives me crazy that I can’t.

    In cities, we touch metals, concrete, plastic-coated wood, cotton, more plastics, rock and macadam all the day long. In my experience, and I’m no New-Ager in the least, the bond to the living earth is essential to our well-being.

  48. Your fantasy place reminded me A LOT of what the Finns call the mökki (summer cottage). During the Summer months, which are few and precious here, most everyone with the possibility leaves the cities and suburbs to retreat to their cabins. They almost always feature a wood burning sauna and border a lake. very tranquil and regenerating!

  49. I started walking my neighborhood to lose a few pounds this past spring. It worked and I’m down to my healthy, comfortable weight….but I can’t stop walking the neighborhood! I’m lucky to live in a place with lots of trees, large lots, and nice people. I used to use weather as an excuse not get outside until I took a walk in a rain storm, it was wonderful! As long as there’s no lightening, it’s become my favorite time to be outside. A stressful day at work used to lead to a glass of wine, now it leads to a stroll thru the treelined lots of my world. I’m healthier to be sure, but I think more important, I’m content. Thank you Mark for the inspiration and the continued lessons and enlightenment!

  50. Amazing how building partially underground or adding a green roof can lower energy consumption as well as increase exposure to nature. almost like the world is telling us to bring nature back into our lives.

  51. DH and I spent two hours in our local Botanic Garden last Sunday. It was so relaxing – a simple walk enjoying gorgeous flowers, plants and trees. So unhurried, no need for a plan… I realize now why it was so pleasant – I ‘ve been starved for nature! I’m going to try to do this more often! Good for the soul!

  52. My “job” is teaching people how to forage for food amongst wild plants. At least two days a week I am outside in nature teaching all day. I call it my office, and I often ride a motorycycle to work. Life is good.

  53. barefoot in the backyard, wading in the Hudson river soaking up the scenery, and dreaming out the Bavarian forests of Germany. Upstate NY is full of potential but sharing the experience with your friends will make it more exciting. Not easy living alone.

  54. I love the suggestion of touching plants!

    I was a bit sceptic at first (treehugging and all) but you have to try it before you judge it! Walking home from work I actually tried it and experienced some strange sense of relief. Perhaps a pavlov reaction from reading the post, but who cares.

    It also made me think that this fits perfectly in the evolutionary thinking akin to Paleo lifestyle: afterall, before we dwelled in caves we were safe up in trees right? Perhaps the leaves and branches gave us a sense of stress relief so we felt safe enough to sleep.

  55. We actually did leave suburbia behind in exchange for paradise. We now live in the mountains of Costa Rica and we do eat vegetables from our garden and eggs from our hens, etc. And our front and backyard does have a river running through it and 7 trout ponds. For us, it’s heaven on earth and we’ve noticed a huge difference in our level of happiness/contentment, are increased ability to appreciate the little things like the vibrant colours of our flowers or the fireflies or a starry night. It’s really good for our soul (and mental health). We’ve opened a B&B and call it Hush Valley Lodge for those people who aren’t going to aren’t looking to uproot their lives like we did, but would like to have that forest bathing experience… we invite you and your followers to check out our website at http://www.hushvalleylodge.com.

    1. Very nice place, I read a bit of and will be following your blog, we’re considering a move to Nicaragua as we are interested in coastal properties.

  56. Mark, I am a long time reader and fan of your blog. I am very drawn to nature but struggle with the reasons. I should probably be less of a critical thinker and just hang out by a river because I feel like it …but I live in my head.

    If nature is so great, why are we disconnecting and creating artificial environments? Here are my thoughts on why people go camping, leaving out the idea of inherit need for nature:
    https://divergentnature.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/camping/

  57. We went camping last weekend – absolutely the best way for me to energise myself – it poured with rain all night – it was great hearing it on the tent roof. And I’ve bought a new stove which I’m going to surprise my wife with in the morning – by making her morning cup of tea with it in the garden! So excited I know that I won’t sleep tonight – sad I know bu t who cares!

  58. I just spent 3 days alone camping at Allegany State Park in NY (outside of cellular phone service). I fished, mountain biked, hiked over 20 miles in forest and small mountains, cooked on a wood fire, and photographed black bear and whitetail deer. Even with the sound of raccoons searching my campsite for leftovers, I slept deeper and longer than I have in recent memory. I didn’t even speak out loud for two days. I missed my family, but the alone time out in nature was outstanding. I came home feeling like a new man. I recommend a solitary camping trip to anyone who can make it happen.

  59. I feel so blessed to live on the shores of beautiful Lake Superior! Just being by the lake is so calming. I agree that I feel 110% better if I can just get outside a little every day. Fortunately I can do this as we live in a rural area on 10 gorgeous acres of land. Hiking in the woods, walking my dog down our country road, and gardening are some of my favorite things! Thanks for a great article Mark! It reminds me why we put up with the grueling winters to live here 🙂

  60. This is one of the best articles and most important topics outside of nutrition and fitness.

    Thanks a lot to you, Mark, and your whole team for providing us with such invaluable information and especially for making it so appealing to read and take up into our daily lives.

    Now, let’s go outside!

  61. Love this. You really laid out in a very organized thoughtful scientific way what has been on my mind for awhile. Thanks for saying it so well.

  62. Before reading this post , I was already itching for a fresh breath of air outside of towns. Now, I am desperate. I love beached and jungles. Can u guys share any recent experience of jungle hiking, river cruise or hanging around in majestic beaches? Nice post.

  63. We recently moved to Bend, OR which is an outdoor adventure paradise. It took a lot of planning, saving, scheming, and sacrifice but our desire to create a new normal for our three your old daughter and to reclaim a lifestyle we used to lead was more important than any obstacle in our way. We are poorer, happier, and healthier. Our daughter’s first memories will be in the wilderness: of rivers, lakes, mountains, trails, and snowy forests. That means everything to me.

  64. So many of you express a desire tinging with regret that most of the good jobs are in the cities, so think about this: Primal people didn’t depend on big companies for their sustenance. Technology has changed that equation for us, too. There are many income sources available wherever you can get high speed internet. You all have computers.

    Check out classes, schools, websites for ways to make a living online. I have read about quite a few different ones. I know of one entire magazine that devotes part of every issue helping readers figure out small business ideas so they can live abroad where life is saner and cheaper – often off the beaten path in South or Central America, SE Asia, or even rural pockets of Italy, Ireland or France.

    Many of the ideas expressed would work as well in small towns and rural areas of this country – as long as you have high speed internet.

  65. Our nature deficiency is at the heart of many psychological problems. When I worked building hiking trails, which you (Mark) and I talked about, I had no stress/anxiety or depression.

    When I moved to Austin in the middle of the concrete jungle in a busy area of the city, it was if I couldn’t relax.

    Even when I’d spend time out at the park it took me at least 20 or 30 minutes to “settle in” with nature again and be able to relax.

  66. I’m dog-sitting for a friend right now and her house is at the bottom of a glorious forest/royal hunting estate in Scotland. Her dogs like a 2 hour hike (5am to 7am) every morning and a wee jaunt in the afternoon. This morning we took a bit longer and went on a 3 hour hike. The sun was shining, and everything was so green and so fresh! I came in from that walk and saw this article and everything just clicked. Let me tell you, when I get back home to my own dog we’ll be taking a lot more hikes because I have NEVER felt as relaxed as I did trying to find my way through the forest and climbing up the side of a steep hill just to get to the top and breathe in clean, crisp Scottish air. I always say I don’t have time when I’m at home, because I have too much work to do. But waking up at 5 means I have the whole day ahead of me, and I intend to start them off with a big walk. There really is nothing like it. Now, to settle down to the laptop and get some work done…it’s a shame my window looks out to the forest…! Thank you for another brilliant article!