One of my friends used to lead nature hikes for at-risk teens. They would traipse through the wilderness for weeks on end carrying only the barest necessities, using leaves for toilet paper and so on. (Don't ask me what the "so on" was; I always got a little squeamish at that point and changed the subject.)

She loved it. I, on the other hand, cannot imagine attempting such a thing unless my life depended on it. And even then, I'd really have to think hard about how badly I wanted to put off heading to heaven. While I like to putter around my flowerbeds now and again, outdoorsy I'm not.

I'm not alone. As a nation we've turned into a bunch of couch potatoes, spending our days and nights glommed onto our keyboards or parked in front of our TVs. Recently the Boy Scouts—the Boy Scouts, for pity's sake—announced a new merit award for video games. How does that help them to "Be prepared", I wonder? 

No wonder so many of us are "significantly vitamin D deficient."i You know about Vitamin D, right? It's important stuff—lack of sufficient quantities can lead to some 17 varieties of cancer as well as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, and more. And while you could swallow a supplement to fix the problem, a mere 20 to 30 minutes in the sun (sunscreen-free) produces 50 times the government's recommended daily dose of Vitamin D.ii

But that's not the only reason to get out of the house: There's a great big beautiful world out there! Have you seen it lately? In person, I mean, not through a window or on a screen, even an HD screen. The real high-definition is the real thing, 3-D the way God created it, no special glasses required. The best part? You don't have to go on a two-week nature hike deep in uncharted wilderness to enjoy it. The beauties of nature may be closer than you think.

For example, if you've got a yard, walk out the door and voila! Nature is right in front of you. As I write this I'm sitting out back enjoying the beautiful spring weather. I'm also keeping a wary eye out for the swallow couple who have—despite my best efforts to persuade them otherwise—moved in next to my back door. The birds are an excellent source of entertainment (and frustration) for my cats, but tend to dive bomb me whenever I venture out. I'm trying to establish a truce, but it's a slow process.

I realize not everyone is blessed with a plot of land to call their own, but that doesn't mean they're off the hook. Regardless of your living quarters or occupation, there are still ways to enjoy the outside world. For example:

  • If you've got a balcony or patio, start or end your day there.
  • Have lunch outside. Many restaurants have outdoor seating where you can breathe fresh air and enjoy your meal at the same time.
  • Or, pack a picnic and plop in a park.
  • Speaking of parks, check out a local map for area parks. Pocket parks are tucked into the unlikeliest places; you may find one just around the corner.
  • Visit a local arboretum. Most cities have public gardens of some sort. A stroll through the flowers can soothe the soul and the walk will do you good.
  • Do you work in a downtown high-rise? Many have courtyards or perimeters with trees and flowers. Try taking a quick break and going out for a breath of (relatively) fresh air.
  • The next time you go to a shopping center, park farther from the door and admire the landscaping around the parking lot on your way in. You'll get in a little extra exercise that way, too.
  • When you're stopped at a traffic light, look around. Many medians are beautifully landscaped.
  • Visit the zoo. It's perfectly OK to do that even without a child in tow, though if you want to take a tot along that's good, too. You can walk and talk with the animals. If they start talking back, however, (assuming your name is not Dr. Doolittle or Harry Potter), you might want to seek counseling. I'm just saying.
  • Go on a walking tour. They're a great way to see a city in a new light, whether you're on vacation or in your home town.
  • Try a new outdoor activity. Take a tennis lesson, rent a kayak, go for a round of golf, mini or otherwise. Why not? You don't have to be good at it or even take it on as a new hobby—just give it whirl.
  • Stroll around the block. You might even meet the neighbors that way.
  • Fill in the blank. You can probably think of other ways to add a little outside to your day. Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments!

But please, I'm begging you, please do not spend your entire outside experience glued to your phone or other electronic device—and that includes ear buds. Unplug. Disconnect. Turn the dang thing off. You won't die. Trust me on this, OK? You can wire yourself back up again in a minute. 

Thank you! Now look around. No, really look around. Look closely at a flower, blade of grass, or passing bug. Notice its shape, texture, and color. Why is it like that, do you suppose? Look up at the sky. What color is it today? Any clouds, birds, or balloons? Now look left, right, etc. What do you see?

After your eyes have had a turn, close them and let your ears take over. What do you hear? Right this minute, I can hear far-off traffic, a conversation between neighbor dogs, and one very cranky swallow. It's amazing what all you can hear when you listen.

If you listen hard enough, you might even hear God speaking. That's worth missing a few iTunes, isn't it?

See you outside!

i Knox, Richard. 2010. Are We Overselling the Sunshine Vitamin? Available from  www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125226703 Accessed 04 May 2010.
ii Vitamin D Council.
Understanding Vitamin D. Available from www.vitamindcouncil.org/ accessed 04 May 2010.

 
Susan Ellingburg is a natural-born Texan who sings at every opportunity, reads as much as possible, and cherishes every day she gets to spend with friends.  She's a serious foodie and not-so-serious gardener who is determined not to let being single stand in the way of living an amazing life.  Read Susan's blog at TastingGod.wordpress.com.

**This column first published on May 13, 2010.