We have been speculating about the why of how being in Nature improves our mental and physical health. There is significant research proving that being in Nature lowers our stress levels, improves our immune system, sharpens our minds, and can heal us from trauma. But the why is much more mysterious. Our attempt to answer the why has been focused on our past experience as a species, the evolutionary impact of living and adapting to our lives outdoors for millions of years.
Our fortunate connection with Neil, the curator of Bonsai trees at the Japanese Friendship Garden in San Diego, California, helped us dig deeper into the question of why.
Standing next to the inspiring Bonsai tree exhibit at the garden, we were discussing how fractal patterns, self-repeating shapes and forms that are easily found in Nature, are so pleasant to look at.
“Just like the Bonsai,” Neil said, as he pointed to a small juniper. “You’ll notice the tree has an overall triangle shape.”
A Bonsai juniper.
“As you begin to look closely, you’ll notice that triangle is repeated in smaller forms for each branch, then each sub-branch.”
The Benefits of Chaparral Education – the research
Increasing public awareness of what healthy, shrub-covered landscapes look like (and what they are called) is one of the first steps necessary in gaining public support in developing a plan to help stem the loss and protect what is left. This is where public parks and volunteer naturalists in protected wild places play a critical role.
Once individuals are introduced to the chaparral as a viable, natural community, interest in learning about the various plants and animals that inhabit the community can grow. As knowledge and appreciation for one’s local, natural environment develops, it becomes incorporated into a person’s place attachment, or more commonly, a “sense of place.”
The concept of sense of place has multiple definitions depending upon who is applying it, but it generally involves not just the physical environment, but social features as well. A sense of place is an experience that combines both the physical setting and what we bring to it, how we interact with it (Steele 1981).