My Biophilic Summer


A summer like this would be something I could only dream of a few years back. No waking to an alarm clock, wolfing down a quick breakfast and rushing out the door to face a stressful daily commute. Working my 8 hours, and facing that home bound commute all over again. My semi retirement has eliminated that daily commute stress. I am eating slower and healthier. I am sleeping better. And physically and emotionally I haven’t felt better since my mountaineering days back in the 1980’s.

My only race this past summer, the Summit 700.  Ended up cutting back my distance to just the 10k.

I had a lot of tentative adventure plans for this summer filed in the back of my brain for this semi-retired body now in its’ sixties. Perhaps some backpacking in Algonquin or Killarney Parks. Run a few more ultras, including a return to the 3 day 150k stage race called Bad Beaver Ultra directed by extreme adventure legend Ray Zahab. In the end, I did none of that. In fact, there was no backpacking and the biggest race I ran over the summer was only a 10 kilometer race called Summit 700 at Blue Mountain.

A newly emerged Monarch from its’ chrysalis on the front of our house. Our garden has been a nursery for Monarchs for the past 28 years. In all this time, this has been the 1st summer I have really gotten to really closely observe.

You see, this past winter I got symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis on the right foot. It was manageable and I was able to keep running and training, but with some discomfort. Running is repetitive, and as time went on, it was becoming more and more uncomfortable. I ran the 26k for Spring Warm-Up and my favourite race, the 50k Pick Your Poison. Both in April. After the Barrie Half Marathon on June 2nd, my foot was becoming very painful. Even for walking. So I made the decision to pull right back on my running. I really needed to be healthy for my stage of The Monarch Ultra on September 22nd.

Easy and slow walks instead of hard runs enabled me to slow down and really observe the natural world. Beautiful Swallowtail butterfly.

I’ve really missed the camaraderie with my fellow runners at these trail races. Over the past few months I have gotten a lot of messages from my running friends asking if I am going to be at this race or that race. And I’ll say “No, unfortunately I can’t make it”. But there has been a huge blessing through slowing down to allow my foot to heal. I have been able to re-embrace with nature in a big way.  With thick cushioned insoles and heel pads, almost everyday I am out slowly walking the forested trails around my little village of Hillsdale. At night I would crawl in my tent I set up in the backyard for sleep.

Having a pollinator garden also brings nature right to our own front yard. Beautiful Monarch feeding on Purple Coneflower.

 

Most nights I would drift to sleep to the chirping of crickets in my in my backyard and to the sound of coyotes in the distance.

The Japanese have a term for spending time in the forest. It is called Shinrin-yoku. Shinrin means forest and yoku means bath. Translated it means taking in the forest atmosphere, or forest bathing. A 2018 Time magazine article mentions that forest bathing is “not exercise, or hiking or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. A forest bath is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world”.

I’ve often gone to Copeland Forest in the past for “hill work” in my training. It is also a wonderful spot for Forest Bathing.

 

One of my recently discovered favourite forests called Elliot Woods, only 6 miles from where I live. Not well known, it takes a mile walk along an unserviced road allowance to access. It is so pristine.

I’ve always felt the benefits of slowing down and spending time in nature. Spending time in nature is restorative physically and calming emotionally. Over the years, life has gotten so busy that I would go weeks and weeks from connecting in nature. And it would show through my stress levels, elevated blood pressure and emotional issues. I am actually grateful for the Plantar Fasciitis. Through Shinrin-yoku I have taken the opportunity to slow down.  And through immersing myself in nature and really observing these past two months, I have felt I’ve learned more about the natural world around me than over I would say the previous several decades.

Wetlands are amazing. When a person takes the time to stop, look and listen, there is so much life found within!

 

This photo taken while on the North Simcoe Rail Trail. It goes through the Minesing Wetlands (used to be called Minesing Swamp). The Nature Conservatory of Canada describes the Minesing Wetlands as the largest and least disturbed wetlands in Southern Ontario. Wetlands are extremely important. Two days earlier to this picture taken, we had major rainstorms. These wetlands hold the excess water back, filter it and release it slowly. So no one gets flooded out downstream.

I’ve felt I have become an amateur naturalist. And an amateur entomologist (one who studies insects). There has been insects discovered these past couple of months I have never seen before in my life. In the various forests right outside the village where I live. I relearned animal tracks. What track belongs to a raccoon, a skunk, a dog, a deer, a wild turkey or a bear.  There was one track found six miles from home that had me stumped. It was huge, and just did not align itself with any of the standard animals tracks normally found in this area. My wife suggested cougar, and when I looked this up the match was identical.  This gave me goosebumps. I mentioned this to my congregation at church, and a gentleman who is an equestrian rider said the Eastern Cougar has been quietly reintroduced by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources for the vital role these animals play in wider ecosystems and the benefits they confer.  This includes curbing deer overpopulations, and tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease, that threaten human health. They also save lives by reducing deer-car collisions. At one time this area was part of the cougars’ natural territory, but humans extirpated them using firearms over a century ago. With this apex predator previously eliminated, natures’ balance has been thrown out of whack. With deer populations proliferating, more people have been getting seriously injured (with some fatalities) from car/deer collisions. And tick borne Lyme Disease is on the rise in Ontario. When my church friend rides his horses, he mentioned he keeps very close attention to the branches of the trees to watch for cougars in these trees along the trail. Cougars are very elusive, but there actually has been a few sightings from others this past while.

I had to enlist my entomologist friends on Twitter to help me identify these beetles. Never seen them before. I was searching under “dung beetles”. Turned out they are American Carrion Beetles. You can only see two beetles in the photo, but the dung looked like it was in motion with the many beetles hard at work inside the scat. A day later when I returned, the beetles had disappeared and the dung looked like compost. So incredible.

 

Have never encountered anything like this in my life. And a couple hundred metres later, I encountered another one. So bright, it looks like a little highlighter. Learned it was the caterpillar for a Definite Marked Tussock Moth.

I have seen deer on a few occasions over the summer which is always a thrill. My most spine tingling experience over the summer was have a large black bear and two cubs cross the trail a couple hundred metres ahead of me. It was on a rail trail called Uhthoff Trail. The bear stopped on the trail and was sniffing the air while it waited. Then the two cubs caught up and the three of them continued on. I waited at least a full ten minutes until I went by the spot where they crossed. Did not want an agitated ursine sow on my hands.

Slowing down I have come to discover there is a LOT of bear sign in the area. Not to alarm anyone in my village, I kept very quiet of the location of these droppings. It was on a baccate dirt path right behind the half acre sized lots of one of the subdivisions. My outdoor knowledgeable Twitter friend Adam from @ThatOutdoorGuy told me “Definitely resembles the black bear scat we have here in the Appalachians, Carl! Seed-rich scat is evidence of a food-rich ecosystem”.

 

The mother bear and her two cubs would have went through this tall grass after crossing the Uhthoff Trail. Made lots of noise when I walked past that point. From beautiful butterflies to burly bruins, the natural world is so much fuller and richer when it is not totally dominated by mankind.

I did not have to travel hundreds of miles to have an amazing contemplative summer holiday experience. There are wonderful hardwood forests, grasslands and amazing wetlands all within a mere 15 mile radius of where I live.  I am so fortunate to live in such an amazing part of the world. And grateful for a simple foot injury which forced me to slow down, and become hard-wired to want to spent as much time as possible outdoors. I have not had this much connection with nature since I was a kid. The scientific term for humans’ love of plants, living things and the natural world is biophilia. Yeah, I have become a biophilic.

Put my key fob for my Prius beside this enormous, slow moving caterpillar for scale. I was so excited to come across it. It was huge. Been around 50 years since I have last seen one. It is the caterpillar for the Ceropia Moth. Growing from 5-7 inches, this is described as North America’s largest species of native moth.

 

Such a random encounter. I left the trail to go pee in a thicket and almost stepped on this little fellow. I sat and observed it for a good 10/15 minutes and the Garter snake didn’t move at all.

Unfortunately the destruction of nature continues across the world at an alarming rate. The Amazon is burning. The glaciers are disappearing. We are facing an alarming significant biodiversity loss through species extinction. Marine life is dying from plastic pollution. And microplastics are now found in the air we breathe and the food we eat. At the same time through technological advancements humans are spending more and more time inside buildings and cars. The lack of biophilic activities and lack of time spent in nature may be strengthening the disconnect of humans from nature. Which will shape what our future world will be like.

Every time I go out, I will fill up my hydration backpack with whatever room I have for discarded bottles and cans to properly dispose or recycle. To make it nicer for others to enjoy. I also see stuff like this often. And it makes me so sad. A long way in from the closest road, someone would had to have a four wheel drive truck to get to where this got dumped.

Our planets’ governments set the rules for human behaviour that maintain or destroy the earths’ fragile ecosystems. As long as our governments and world leaders are more concerned for the economy instead of the environment we will not see any environmental wiggle room in the near future. Princeton University’s Carbon Mitigation Initiative mentions that “Humanity already possesses the fundamental scientific, technical and industrial know how to solve the carbon and climate problem for the next half century”. Whether the human race can turn things around is yet to be seen. Environmentalists suggest that the best way to care for our environment is to explore it. We then learn to love it and embrace it. And as we connect with nature through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch and become like biophilics, we soon realize how important and incredibly amazing the natural world really is. And want to work hard and do all we can at being an advocate for its’ protection. Thanks for reading!

Lots of blackberries in the back country. And boy do they ever taste good!

 

 

 

 

Categories: EnvironmentTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

23 comments

  1. Talk about turning an injury into such a positive experience! It’s amazing what you see when you slow down and look around. I know you’ll keep that up once you’re running lots again. Plantar fasciitis is plain nasty. I can empathize. I hope your foot is doing well as your Monarch Ultra starts soon I think!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much stopping by and sharing your kind words Angie. I’m getting to the age where friends and acquaintances my age are getting cancer or dying. And it makes Plantar Fasciitis really insignificant in comparison. I had a few days of “woe is me”, but when I put things in perspective, decided to make the best of it. I did miss running, but it has been a great summer. Won’t be doing the 107k for the Monarch Ultra. But will “try” to do 50k. We’ll see! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Happy Semi Retirement! Sorry about your foot. Have you found a good physio/osteopath that can help?

    I’m all for nature bathing. Living in a city and not getting out the city much can be hard. As you know I have Barcelona Zoo and go there as often as I can to be surrounded by trees and peace and quiet if I go last hour. In June while running and cycling I kept seeing white butterflies and on off during the summer to my surprise cycling along busy city beaches I’ve seen a few dragonflies! Little things like that make me smile. Just seeing birds (maybe not seagulls. They can be bullies to other birds) like sparrows make me smile. As my Mum says ‘you can take the girl out the country(side) but you can’t take the country(side) out the girl’.

    I hope this fall you’re back running and using your walking awareness all in one!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for reading and sharing Natalie. I have so much respect for you in how you make the best of it while living in the city. And I love how you find that time to go to the Zoo when it is the most peaceful. It is making me smile as you describe your discoveries while running and cycling. That countryside girl does shine through Natalie as you are so aware of bits of nature all around you! 🙂

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  3. That’s a really lovely reminder of how important it is to literally stop and smell the roses, Carl! I am prescribing myself more forest bathing for sure. What a lovely summer and so much fauna and flora discovery😊

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am a believer in Shinrin-yoku. My favorite photo in this post – the pink chair among your coneflowers.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey Carl, sorry about the plantar fasciitis. I know others that suffer from this and it can be real painful. I”m glad you’re making the most of your free time by literally taking the time to smell the roses and sharing it with the rest of us. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Beautiful post! We spent huge chunks of each day outside exploring our yard and on walks with our son. He loves being outside ❤️ we do too. I have appreciated reconnecting with our garden and I thank my son for that. Cheers to the upcoming fall season!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This slowdown has opened up different views for you, Carl! It is always our spirit that is going to be lens through which we look at the world, and your world seems to be full of adventure and outdoors! Good luck 🙂 Sending tons of healing vibes for your foot.

    Plantar fasciitis – it gives me nightmares as a sprain years back has created an issue in my left foot. It is only right footwear and (as my chiro keeps badgering me to get onto) possible orthotics that will help me. *sighs*

    Like

    • Wow, Prajakta. I am sincerely sorry this has become an ongoing issue for you. I hope that it corrects itself in time, and you will be able to get back running. It has been a very good summer for myself. Never went any distances at all, but experienced so much.

      I hope you are adjusting well to Canada. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and for your wonderful comment. 🙂

      Like

  8. This forest bath looks good on you. What a grateful (and grace-filled) way to deal with an injury. Wishing you a speedy recovery – as well as many more biophilic days 😎

    Liked by 1 person

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