Person admiring the forest with their arms outstretched

The Landscape

Shakespeare’s Juliet once declared “A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.”

So what’s in a word when you think about the landscape? Is it a thing, a place, or both at the same time? Is your experience with the landscape immersive, or is it that place beyond the windows out there? Like a distant friend, is the landscape pleasant but not familiar?

Evolution of the Human-Nature Relationship

Mountain landscape with trees and lake
As the post-industrial modern times continue to evolve, we are being ushered further and further away from where we came from. No matter what words you choose to describe it – the outdoors, Mother Earth, the natural landscape – before the 1900s, this space was once our home and where we spent most of our waking time. Nature was the place where we once grew our food, built our shelters, and harvested meat, wheat, and berries.

For thousands of years, there was a symbiotic relationship between mankind and nature, not so much by conscious choice but out of necessity. And it worked!

As we toiled out there, we breathed in the fresh air. As we planted and dug, we strengthened our bodies. As we hunted and gathered, our conditioning grew. In these wide-open spaces, our spirits were in a constant state of renewal.  And so it went until the mid-1850s or so.

Women Using Her phone and laptop

The Technological Revolution

Over the past 150 years, mankind has ushered in countless innovations intended to make our lives easier, more comfortable, and more convenient. Innovations to improve the flow of people, products, and information, as well as breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology. It has all seemingly worked together to make this world a better place to live and a better time to exist. But has it really?

On the one hand, yes of course it has. We can now travel in mere hours to places where that same journey took several months if it was even possible at all. We live in comfortable homes not giving much thought to the electricity that powers our appliances and lights the night, to the natural gas used to heat and cook, and to the internet wire providing instant news and communication. Modern medicine has made things that were once potentially life-changing or even fatal, merely a treatment away from health restored.

But on the other hand, not so much. The same innovations that have provided more ease and comfort in our daily lives and improvements to our perceived health and well-being have had unintended side effects. Now, we remain inside and still for far too long and for far too many reasons. We can experience a good portion of what life is today without leaving our seats. The comforts these things provide us we gladly accept, but we now tend to watch the world more than we participate in it. The problem is true health and vitality is not a spectator sport.

To get the full experience and not just a sensory one we need to be involved, we need to move, we need to get outdoors. We need to find ways and means to be in these outdoor spaces.

The Landscape Defined

Wikipedia defines the landscape as “the visible features of an area of land, its landforms, and how they integrate with natural or human-made features, often considered in terms of their aesthetic appeal. A landscape includes the physical elements of geophysically defined landforms such as mountains, hills, water bodies such as rivers, lakes, ponds, and the sea, living elements of land cover including indigenous vegetation, human elements including different forms of land use, buildings, and structures, and transitory elements such as lighting and weather conditions. Combining both their physical origins and the cultural overlay of human presence, often created over millennia, landscapes reflect a living synthesis of people and place that is vital to local and national identity.”

Hm – “A living synthesis of people and place that is vital to local and national identity.” Sounds pretty important to me. So you mean that place outside – that place where for thousands of years our ancestors existed along with us – are parts to fill a whole? Yep, that’s the place.

Tree branches and skyscrapers

The Healing Power of Nature

Now more than ever, we need to spend time outside. Human beings can benefit in a multitude of ways from being in nature. Green spaces have been shown to support physically active and healthy lifestyles, thus increasing life expectancy, improving sleep, reducing stress, cancer and heart disease risk, and more. The list goes on and on.

The wellness benefits of the great outdoors don’t stop at physical health. Emotional wellness benefits, such as lowered risk of depression and increased focus and concentration are also commonly observed in those who spend more time outside. There are so many reasons to restore our kinship with nature, even if it’s in smaller doses than our ancestors.

Getting Reacquainted With Our Old Friend Nature

We need to get out there and reacquaint ourselves with the trees of the forest and those on our street, the wildflowers in the meadow, and the herbs in our yard. Breathe in the fresh pine scent on a warm summer day and stroll through the meadow as wafts of wildflower fragrance swirling on the breeze. Go and be still in an old-growth forest midwinter and experience the cathedral effect and its quiet serenity as swaying branches arch gently towards the heavens as witnessed from that modest space you occupy below.

Get out there. Your old friend Mother Nature and her landscape await.

Don Stelfox