Field Notes: July 2016
Hello Everyone! It’s been three weeks since I relocated back home to the Metro area and two weeks since I started working as the executive director at the Forest. Not much time has passed but the experience I’ve had here so far has been rich and invigorating.
My time thus far has been spent meeting and greeting the wonderful staff, volunteers, and community that enjoys and supports the work of Fontenelle Forest. Several deer and wild turkey have visited the window inviting me to come out and walk in the woods as I sit busy at my computer. Office visitors have included three baby Short-Eared Owls, a Western Screech Owl, and a baby Cooper’s Hawk. It’s so nice to be able to tell you that every introduction and new experience I’ve had at the Forest has been full or warmth and welcome. I’m told that this is just the nature of Fontenelle Forest.
I feel quite fortunate to have come to this place because the sense of connection and well-being that I am experiencing is something I am thrilled to be able to share with you! Of course, you get it. You are on the Forest’s mailing list and I hope you are a regular visitor to our piece of paradise along the Missouri River. But sadly, there are still too many people in our community that have found themselves stuck in the concrete Prairie.
As I’ve met new people and made new friends, I’m consistently asked what brought me back to Omaha after living in Seattle for 20 years. Excitedly, I tell them, I came back to work at Fontenelle Forest. And consistently, I hear the same refrain. “Oh, I went there when I was a kid”.
It’s not difficult to understand when people reply in this manner. The Forest proudly provides nature education and outdoor experiences for close to 40,000 school children throughout our community each year. However, the importance and necessity of exposure to nature in our lives never ends and there are real health consequences to being isolated in urban areas. And so each time I am quick to reply, Fontenelle Forest isn’t just for kids. Experiences that connect us to the natural world are important for our happiness, health and well-being.
In 2015, a group of Stanford University researchers published a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. The study highlights the vital role access to nature provides to people that live in cities. Researchers reported that the rate of urbanization throughout the world is increasing at an alarming rate. Data show that more than 50% of the world’s human populations live in urban areas and that number is expected to increase to 70% by the year 2050. This growth is accompanied by a decrease in the access and exposure that people have to nature and an increase in the levels of anxiety and depression people experience. Rumination has been identified as a risk factor for mental illness. It is the process of repetitively focusing one’s thoughts on negative aspects of the self. The research also revealed that people who went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment. These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world. (Source).
In Jeremy Coles’ article “How Nature is Good for Our Health and Happiness” he cites another study that reveals how children exposed to the natural world show increases in self-esteem; learn how to take healthy risks; are able to unleash their creativity; and, experience the benefits of exercise, play, and discovery. (Source)
It has been said that “happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” Fontenelle Forest’s mission is to provide a place where people can experience and enjoy the quiet wild of nature. We want to inspire current and future generations to care for the natural world. It is my pleasure as executive director to invite you to share in the warmth, the welcome, and the well-being that is here for you at Fontenelle Forest and Neale Woods.
– Merica Whitehall, Executive Director