Playing in the dirt

My hips ache. My low back and shoulders and thighs are sore. My knees are scraped and my palms are chafed. I love this feeling, this visceral reminder of sustained effort. I’ve felt this way before, for other, sexier reasons, but today it’s from pulling weeds, putting in a garden, working with dirt and plants in the sun. These efforts nourish me in unexpected ways. I love the quiet joy of gazing out at a newly planted garden, the way the tomato plants seem so small, the blank row of dirt that will yield radishes, the asparagus plot planted two years ago that still produces only about six stalks for spring, the pale green of early strawberries, the waving fronds of parsley, dill, basil.

I’ve cut off my fingernails because I could not scrub the dirt from them otherwise, and my bare, utilitarian fingers are pleasing to me. I wander onto the veranda that overlooks my small plot just to observe the dirt in the sun, in the rain, in different lights. I show the promise of the garden to everyone who comes by.

A while ago I read a study about recovery in gallbladder surgical patients where the only differentiating factor was their view. Some patients had a view of brick wall through their window. Others overlooked a park heavy with green trees. The patients with the nature view healed faster, required less pain medication, and were less likely to experience complications. I am not one of the people who say, “This is true because it is consistent with my experience,” but I will say that this study, and similar ones like it, definitely ring true for me. I also find that it’s harder to get angry in the woods, or by a lake, or on a quiet beach. I have never regretted going on a hike, either alone or with friends.

One of the things that my husband and I disagree on is where we feel most at home in the world. I feel stronger in the woods, he says he prefers streets and buildings. Which is strange, because I am the one who pulls other people into our home for social gatherings while he is the one who prefers watching … get this … nature, space, and conservation documentaries. Perhaps we overlap in our preferences more than I think. When we travel, he wants to wander among art exhibits, listen to informative podcasts about our experience, or visit planetariums, while I want to dine out, visit cemeteries, or wander among the hills overlooking (but not in) the cities.

Regardless, I find that most people I know, even my iPhone and SnapChat addicted 17 year old, experience a certain sense of restoration from being outdoors. One of my book clubs, after we had remarked on the phenomenon of the healing powers of trees, is reading The Nature Fixa book about how nature, even in small amounts, is good for us, drawing on biological, psychological, and medical studies for evidence.

I guess my advice for writers, creators, lovers, parents, patients, and problem-solvers is to play in the dirt, walk in the woods.

Some other articles, with links to other studies, are included here and here if you’re interested. 




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