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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!