By Rachel Norton, Executive Director
Coping with the everyday cares and stresses of parenting, work and life can really wear me down, and one of the promises I made to myself in 2018 was to focus more effort on self-care: eating better, getting enough sleep and exercise – the usual stuff. And I did pretty well at that, most weeks at least. But in reflecting on the times I felt most joyful last year, I realized there were some common threads: spending time with friends and people I love, of course, and spending time in nature. I’ve written about some of those experiences, like the state parks road trip I took with my mom and sister last summer, and a visit to Mendocino state parks with my daughter. There were other trips, too, like a magical weekend on British Columbia’s Pender Island and three days in the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California. Even when all I can manage to squeeze in is a walk to the beach near my apartment, I always feel happier and calmer afterwards. And it’s not just me . . . it’s science! For example, a 2015 Stanford study found that people who walked for 90 minutes in nature, as opposed to city streets, exhibited decreased activity in a part of the brain associated with depression. In some areas, doctors are even prescribing park visits as a powerful mental and physical health intervention. Science is great, and yet really all I had to do was go back to the family photo album to remind myself of the joy that nature can bring. The picture at the top of this post is my daughter Jackie, now 19, splashing joyfully in the Tuolumne River when she was around age six. Anyone who has ever experienced a mountain river in June knows that they are ice cold. But that never bothered Jackie, and it never bothered me when I was younger either. (The Pacific Ocean off Northern California beaches is never much warmer than 55 degrees, but I remember splashing happily in the waves at Stinson Beach every Christmastime as a child – you just have to “get used to it,” i.e., get numb. Brrr!) So, my intention for 2019 is even more simple than the one I made for 2018. It is to remember that I find great joy in nature, just like Jackie. I will hold this picture with me as I explore more of California’s amazing natural spaces, and especially state parks, this year! What’s your intention for 2019? I’d love to read it in the comments!