Seek out some Free Time (in Nature) to connect to a Deeper Sense of Happiness


Ever since I read about the futility in the "pursuit" of happiness, my expectations for happiness have grounded towards choosing a more mindful presence and using daily gratitude, rather than chasing after things or experiences that I think might provide me with a happier life.

The idea is to BE happy, rather than SEEK happiness.

Realizing what we already have can make us more grateful and lead to more satisfaction with our present experience and this can be extended to the greenery and green space around us.  Appreciating the trees on our block, the garden of flowers down the street and/or our familiar neighbourhood park can help us feel rich in a green of a different sort.

My friend sent me an article last year about another way to add more happiness to our lives.  This technique SHOULD be easy, but with our lives full of technology and our overly organized and programmed days, it actually isn't so simple.  Here is what the article said:


Some may be thinking, that's easy, I can just schedule less!  No problem!  Some may even be thinking - I already do that - I have no schedule at night and just hang out at home.  Easy, peasy.  But I think part of the magic formula here is to still DO fun stuff but have less planning around it.  This is definitely a challenge for me as I'm lost without my "to do lists" and my friends know that I'm prone to scheduling in visits weeks in advance rather than doing things spontaneously.  (It might be the introvert in me!) But I did grow up in the generation of children who were left to their own devices after school and during summer, so maybe there is still some unrestrained zeal somewhere deep down.  Here's hoping!

To help along this desire to play and enjoy free-time, I've come up with some ideas to kick start this for the warm months ahead.


Five Fun Ways to Schedule Less But Enjoy More Nature:
  • Meander, stroll and explore - seek out green in your neighbourhood or others!
  • Block out time for impromptu outdoor plans and do something spontaneous - whatever seems fun at the time.
  • Next time you hear some cheering or music from a park - go and investigate.
  • Scroll through your contact list and see who is available (or better yet drop by!) and see if the want to do something outdoors.
  • Add a reminder on your phone once a week (at lunch or after work) and when it pops up - SAY YES (remember the 5 second rule) to getting outside wherever you are.

Remember the other tips from the article - create "rough scheduling" rather than strict scheduling and enjoy the quality of the experience, rather than a quantity of them.

Let us know if you think scheduling your days more freely would make you more happy and please share any tips on how you enjoy impromptu nature outings yourself!

Happy urban wilding!



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Get Outside for Your Tree Medicine this Spring!


Trees provide us with so many benefits.  They shade us, they clean the air, they hold water and carbon.  They can be a home to many wildlife creatures big and small supporting a complex ecology.  Heritage trees need to be valued and our urban forest canopy should be seen for the economic benefit it is.

Trees provide us with green.  That visual green stimulus calms our nervous system but there are other positive stimulus from being outside and under trees.  All of our senses are stimulated from the wind and fresh air, the wildlife and wood lots are more naturally humid and our skin can sense this.  There are colours and movements and textures and even the changes in walking surfaces and then there are the aromas and aerosols. These scents can not only affect our immune system in a positive way but they can also help with circulation and even improve our urban environments.

Think of the scent of pine or rose.  These can trigger positive mental stimulus as we might associate the aroma with a positive experience but these scents can also boost our health as can many other tree "aerosols" and plant organic compounds.  These tree oils (terepenes) are secreted for many reasons - to attract certain beneficial insects, to protect the tree from pests and even to regulate temperatures but we benefit also as these aerosols provide various health benefits such as being anti-viral or having anti-oxidant compounds or anti-inflammatory to name a few.




According to Diana Beresford-Kroeger (from a list of trees she recommended to Ecology Ottawa for replacing the dying Ash trees):

  • American Basswood which flowers in early summer can boost our health due to a lactone chemistry in its aerosol.
  • Black Walnut provides a service to urban environments by "neutralizing toxic benzene" from urban vehicle pollution with its chemical aerosols.
  • Eastern White Cedar has anti-viral aerosols that are released by glands in its leaves on humid days can "regulate the beating heart".
  • And two other evergreens: the Fir has antiseptic and antibiotic aerosols while the Spruce helps to lower blood pressure through its tree oil scent release.  Let me know of any others you have read about!


What a great reminder of the scientifically proven benefits of nearby nature and getting outdoors!

Where are some tree groves in your neighbourhood?  Some of the older suburbs in London, Ontario are lined with Basswood (Linden - Tilia) trees and Ottawa has a few old stands of conifer tree farms within city limits.  You can find Cedars in damp, lowlands of some greenspaces and Black Walnuts may be found along riverbanks where it is more temperate.



What tree scents give you that mental nature boost?

Do you have a favourite wood lot or tree-lined street to visit?






SOURCES:

Call of the Forest - Diana Beresford-Kroeger - Forest Fragrance

Take A Deep Breath – What Makes Tree Scents?  Trees Atlanta 2017

The Japanese practice of ‘forest bathing’ is scientifically proven to improve your health, Ephrat Livni, Quartz 2016

Diana Beresford-Kroeger Ottawa Tree List, Ecology Ottawa 2013

The Healing Power of Pine, Sara Altshul, Health 2012


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(FREEBIE) As Energizing as a Cup of Coffee: Your Green Nature "Office Break" during a long week at work



When I read how nature can be "as energizing as a cup of coffee" it made me wish that I had known this on stressful work days at the office many years ago!

Instead of a fifteen to twenty minute coffee break, sitting in the cafeteria basement (or worse yet at my desk) sipping on a second or (horrors!) third cup of coffee, trying to ease my way back to being jazzed and better focused to be able to work on ONE. MORE. briefing document, I could have chosen a better option.

I could have chosen a quick trip to a park or a brisk walk under a tree lined street to perk up my frazzled mental state and rouse it for a final push to project completion!  

There was always this inkling that I should have broken up my day behind the desk with some fresh air and some outdoor greenery but it always felt like an "escape" or denial-ism rather than a potential supportive tool for my mental clarity.  If I left the office - was I running away from work completely, I'd wonder?  It felt more like a pushing away - the need to get out of the office, rather than a pulling towards being outdoors and this was before all the studies of "nature is good for your health" became mainstream.

And now even when we KNOW that nature is good for us, it still can be a difficult for many to prioritize, find time or even know where to go or what to do.  Is it really as easy as just getting to a small park or sitting under a tree?  And add to this uncertainty, our inability to easily gauge the full benefit of being outdoors - a study here at Carleton University showed that study participants typically underestimated how they thought they would feel after being in nature - no wonder we don't prioritize nature!


Nature may be calling but it seems that we are not picking up and answering!


As mentioned before in this blog, the average adult spends only 5 - 8 % of their time outdoors (Harvard School of Public Health and NHAPS Study).  Even a recent Canadian study showed low numbers:

The 2017 Coleman Canada Outdoor Report hosted by Angus Reid Forum surveyed approx. 1,500 Canadian adults and found that 64% of us are enjoying the open-air for less than two hours a week (less than 20 minutes a day) and 29% of us, say we spend less than a half hour per week outside. (Toronto Sun)

These stats definitely show that it's time to get outdoors!  There are so many benefits from just stepping outside and it doesn't have to be a long hike or a two-hour forest bathing session.  All the benefits from nature are just outside the door.

So the next time you feel the need to get a coffee for an energy boost or your stress levels seem to be mounting - think about getting outside.  And to get an extra Nature Boost use the Wild. Here. handy PDF tip sheet to elevate your outdoor experience connecting at a deeper and calmer level.







LINKS TO RESEARCH:

Underestimating Nearby Nature: Affective Forecasting Errors Obscure the Happy Path to Sustainability, (Sage Journals).  Research by Elizabeth K. Nisbet and John M. Zelenski. First Published August 9, 2011.

The National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS): A Resource for Assessing Exposure to Environmental Pollutants. Research by Neil E. Klepeis and others. Published by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2001.
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Finding Spring Ephemerals Off the Beaten Track in Montreal


Mont Royal is a great place to explore.  You can spend your whole day in this green space - there are trails (both formal and informal), lots of places to spend time under trees, a few great lookouts to see the city skyline, places to eat (Mt. Royal Chalet, Café des Amis - Pavillon, Maison Smith) and great scenic spots to rest and people watch by the lake.  And yes if you want to do an urban hike - Mont Royal is your spot - with options of 2 km, 4 km and 8 km hikes!

As mentioned in a previous Wild. Here. Montreal post, two cemeteries make up about half of the green space here and when we are visiting the city we love walking around the Mont Royal Cemetery.  Last spring we went off the "beaten path" and found some ephemerals under foot.  Mont Royal is a great place to take in all the tree blossoms and spring flowers!  This map provides details about all the services found on "La Montagne".

- Lots of red and white blossoms -

- Quiet trail through a small wooded area - 

- Where we found Trilliums! - 

- So many growing in the dappled light of the spring forest - 

- Pink blossoms also! - 

- This is the entrance we use off Remembrance Road - 

- There are many guided tours for nature lovers - 


- Along the path near Chalet du Mont Royal - 

- Some informal paths up the hill - 

- Spectacular spring blossoms!

Also, if you like dogs, don't miss out on Bois Summit (Summit Woods) which is just south west of  Mont Royal while you are there!  It's a favourite off leash dog walking spot.  Great views at the top here too!


You May Also Like:

Wild. Here. The Green Side of Montreal (April 2019)

An Urban Nature-loving Flâneur's Day in Montreal, Quebec (April 2019)

Looping around the Island and Industry in Montreal - Urban Nature Discoveries (October 2017)

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Getting Out In Nature: Why You Should Leave your Dog Home Every Once in Awhile


Nature... it provides so many benefits, can boost our spirits, calm our nerves, refresh our day and it is easily accessible....

All it takes is getting outdoors and going for a walk!

And many dog owners do EXACTLY that: enjoy a daily walk every day, rain or shine (or sleet!) with their pet.

And you probably also know how much I appreciate these dedicated dog walkers, creating trails for me (especially in winter!) in wilder green spaces and along river corridors.  I've even written a few posts to help them find new spots to get out in nature in their own city or even right here in Ottawa!

I know the bond between dog and dog owner (or dog parent if you like) is strong and you may not have ever considered getting out into nature without your pooch.  Maybe not - perhaps your best canine friend is the only reason you DO get out.  Which really means your dog is that key activity that gets you outside on a regular basis.

Maybe you haven't considered exploring nature on your own because one daily walk with your pooch is enough or perhaps going out on your own doesn't sound like much fun?  But if you are a nature lover, there are some things you may be missing out on if you only enjoy nature outings with your four-legged pal.  Here are a few things to consider:


You will see more wildlife.

Whether you have a quiet, calm dog or not, chances are you are visiting areas that are also frequented by other dog walkers.  The regular (and constant) presence of dogs in a greenspace, does change the movement of wildlife and even the nesting patterns of birds* (see studies at bottom of *this*post).  Which means you'll see more of the backsides of four-legged creatures and alert birds will be high up in trees and may even quiet their mating songs if they feel threatened.  (Yes they may still make calls - but those are more likely warning notes - letting other birds know to stay away also!)


Your speed can be dictated by yourself and not your pooch.

Your dear doggie, even if it is well-trained and not tugging at their lead, still has its own interest in nature and can be strongly urged by scents, other dogs or other excitement that may change the pace of your walk.  By setting aside time to get out on your own at a more relaxed pace you can go slower, notice more things, be with your own thoughts (and not have to focus on your pup) and even stop and study something or pause when hearing a bird song and spend the time to see if you can locate it.  

The nature outing can be about your interests.

If you have certain interests, such as photography or another outdoor passion that requires focus or limited distractions, then it might be hard to really put your full attention and get the most out of it, if you are also sharing your time with your favourite pooch.  It might be hard to check out tiny details off the trail or have time to look for wildlife signs or enjoy a sit spot under a favourite tree.  A nature outing on your own can be your time to be selfish!


You can explore locations you can't bring your dog.

Some protected greenspaces are out of bounds for dogs so unfortunately, if you only get out regularly with your furry friend you will never be able to visit these spots.  They are likely a bit more pristine, quiet and with a bigger focus on wildlife conservation.  They may have some observations stands or other great wildlife blinds, where you can sit and observe without disturbing the action and even possibly see some exciting wildlife.  These locations are great to visit with a (human) friend close to sunrise or sunset when more creatures are active. 

No muddy paws, fur to search for ticks.

Of course you love your dog and it's all part of being an owner, but sometimes it's just nice to get out in an easy, quick and simple way.  And it is also great to return home without a lot of fuss or muss.  With no beautiful, wet, furry pup to contend with afterwards, transitioning back to your house takes no time at all.  And let's not forget - no laborious flea & tick check afterwards either!

(Enough said about that!)

* * *

Yes!  Please get out with your dog!  And yes if it's all you can do, continue your daily walk and let it just be that!

I agree that there are is only a limited amount of time each day and truly, dog walkers are getting our much more than most people.  When I'm out in greenspaces, that's mostly who I see!  (And some stray photographers or if it's early enough a few birders...)  So by no means, do I want to dissuade you from all the benefits from being with your dog.

But if you love nature and are wondering why you don't see more wildlife or perhaps why you may not feel completely ZENNED OUT after a long walk, consider perhaps having a once a week, or once a month nature walk just for you.

You may be surprised with what you are missing!




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Your First Step into Enjoying more Nature Connection


You've probably heard that getting outdoors and enjoying nature is good for you - that it will benefit you in many ways.  But it's that gap between knowing it and actually doing it where many people stumble.  If getting outside and enjoying nature can be a free outing (which means that the cost is not stopping people) and if nature is close by - whether it's a nearby park, a bike path or a tree-lined street (which means that access is not the issue) then what is stopping so many people?  Without these two obstacles, why are so many people still not getting out weekly and/or appreciating even the smaller touches of nature daily?

Some people just don't know what they really like to do outdoors - something that would draw them out regularly.  They may just think: I don't want to go to my local park, I don't like sitting on a park bench and I really don't want to be a walker.

It can be difficult to figure out what type of nature/outdoor activities would help facilitate a more regular outdoor routine but if you are curious, take a look at the questions below to take your FIRST STEP towards establishing a more consistent nature connection.

Here are some things to ask yourself so that you can start identifying the most enjoyable nature fixes for you:

Do you enjoy ACTIVE or PASSIVE activities?

Are you more of an athletic person or someone who likes more leisure activities?  Perhaps you like a mixture of both?  Both types of activities can be enjoyed outdoors, whether it is jogging, snowshoeing or being active on water (to name a few active options) or whether it is reading a book, listening to a podcast or enjoying a leisurely stroll.

Should nature be more of a BACKDROP for your activities or do you want it FRONT and CENTRE?

Nature can be a backdrop, when you take whatever you love to do and do it outdoors.  So think of reading outdoors, picnic outdoors, running outdoors or other indoor activities that you can easily switch up by bringing them outside. But if nature itself is of interest, whether animate or even inanimate, flora or fauna or even weather patterns, choose activities where it becomes your focus, the foreground if you will.  You'll want to know more about your surroundings, you will want to identify nature or at least get more personal with it - perhaps even name a favourite tree or it could mean that you want to use it to express an artistic side like sketching or painting.

Do you appreciate a SCIENTIFIC or more CREATIVE approach to things?

If you are scientific then you can enjoy a myriad of opportunities to help in studies, research and field observations - some local and some national and even international.  Field studies are a great option to get you outdoors - some can even be done as a nature or wildlife volunteer for a local organization.  On the other hand, if you want to nurture your more creative side, you can paint, sketch, take photographs and/or do anything creative outside (dancing, theatre, writing).  Nature for creatives can be a relaxing backdrop, the focus of your creativity or a refreshing space that inspires new ideas.

Are you CURIOUS or a DREAMER?

If you are curious and inquisitive, you might find yourself outdoors with identification books, learning about specific flora and fauna or wondering about the patterns and behaviours of what you are seeing.  Learning can compliment your outdoor exploration and it can also be done outdoors wherever you find yourself.  If you are more of a dreamer, you may find natural spaces encourage this contemplative side of yourself.  You may not want to do anything outside other than wander, let your eyes meander and take in sites and just allow yourself to be guided by intuition and the freedom of movement.  Nature can nurture your need to seek beauty (perhaps you'd like to be a sunset seeker?), inspire your natural expression to channel into art pieces,  or you can just lie back and watch the clouds go by.



Do GOALS or LISTS motivate you or are you more a SEEKER and ADVENTURER?

Birding is one of the top outdoor hobbies for achieving "life" goals and adding to a checklist of "birds seen".  Not only can rare birds become intensely sought out "lifers" but the motivation to see certain birds can encourage many to get outdoors when nothing else can.  But if birding isn't your thing, there are other goal-oriented nature activities you can enjoy including creating your own checklist of "Kayaking every river and lake" or "Visiting every park" or completing a series of activities - perhaps a monthly orienteering exercise or a summer trail running series.  It could start as a 100 day project or it could be an endurance activity that requires regular training.  Or if lists and goal oriented activities don't inspire you, an immersive experience where you explore the wilder parts around the city and discover spaces and scenery that are not known to the majority of urban dwellers could be your thing!  You may be surprised with some of your discoveries that are just out of sight of the regular routes you take on a car or bike - hidden in quieter spots and you may also enjoy more encounters with wildlife in green spaces and see unique flora that doesn't appear in your local park.

Are you SOCIAL or more of an INTROVERT?

Depending on whether you are an extrovert or introvert, you may be interacting with nature differently, or at least choose to do different activities depending on your energy levels.  The good news is there are various types of social activities that might be better suited to specific social interests.  I wrote a blog post about outdoor options for both introverts and extroverts - suggesting specific outings that might suit each type of personality better - some that are more quiet and contemplative and some that involve big groups and more socializing.



So what do you think?

Do these questions help identify some possible options for you?

Have you thought of how your nature outings can suit your personality before?



By asking these questions, hopefully this can allow you to explore a variety of opportunities to connect with nature, some more immersive then others, but all providing that Vitamin N that adds so much to our well being.  And if you find something that you really love doing - that will ensure that you get out more and increase your time outdoors!


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Urban Wildlife Sightings of a Flâneur in Montreal (including a rare bird!)


It was early spring so I wasn't expecting much but was curious to see if there would be anything different from what I was seeing in Ottawa.  It was good to walk by some bodies of water (where birds will gather) and also visit some city parks of various sizes.  But you never know where something interesting will pop up so if you are keen about urban wildlife stay sharp and observe with as many senses as possible!  A good birding ear will tell you a lot about what is around (says someone who wants to improve hers!).

And something interesting did pop up in Montreal!  I've been occasionally seeing photos like this bird in various online feeds (they are a bit like a unicorn for birders!) so I was excited to see something I didn't recognize but that stood out and then when I realized what I was seeing - I started madly snapping.  Unfortunately it was in branches and I couldn't get the best focus and I was also a bit self-conscious pointing my camera at someone's front yard!  I found the bird along a street with some brownstones - small square of a front yard with a bird feeder.  But it was a thrill indeed!

The other thing about city birding is that if you are not with another birder or you have a time crunch you may not be able to stay and take as many photos as you'd like to get that PERFECT shot.  And also as mentioned above there is that self-conscious worry if your camera is pointing toward's someone's private property (or is it just me?).  To get around this, going to city parks at off peak hours will offer lots of opportunities so that you don't have to stray too far into the suburbs!  Or the other opportunity in cities are the cemeteries - these can be havens for wildlife especially if there is a waterbody included in the landscape.  These are great migrating rest stops in the spring and fall.

Here is what I saw as a follow up to my Urban Nature-loving Flâneur's Day:

LACHINE CANAL

(City and water birds)

- Gulls were definitely back in the city (best way to identify is colour of legs!) -

- Sweet gull tracks on the melting ice! -

- A Red-winged Blackbird sans epaulettes! -

(Did you know that males can "hide" their flashy colours. Females are brown and arrive a few weeks after the males.)

- Brown bird (unidentified) -

- Love doves errr... pigeons! -

(Did you know that Pigeons and Doves are the same bird family: Columbidae?)

- Another unidentified bird as we were rushing back to Bonadventure... (House Sparrow?) -


MCGILL

(The usual suspects plus one rare find!)

- Very calm squirrel - less than an arm distance away- 

- Love this small pigeon park I found! -

(La Puissance Psychique des Animaux a.k.a The Psychic Power of Animals)

- And here it is.... a leucistic House Sparrow!! -

(If it was albino, it would have red or pink eyes.  Leucistic refers just to the feathers.)



PARC LA FONTAINE



- Lots of squirrels - managed to capture a photo of this one having lunch! - 


You May Also Like:

The Urban Birds of Palm Springs (Winter 2018)

A Spring Walk Along the Thames River (Spring 2017)


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An Urban Nature-loving Flâneur's Day in Montreal (Quebec)




We decided to call it a day of reconnaissance.  The sky was grey, the city was grey, the trees were bare - it just wasn't going to be a great picture-taking outing.  I came home and remembered that I had photos of a better day in Montreal - everything bright green and blue!  Of course those types of pictures are the ones I WANT to share with readers!  But afterwards I thought of the falsity of the internet and even more of social media - where most everything is rosy and positive and perfect.

Unlike our lives, unlike most of our days and really difficult to try and compare ourselves and reality to.  We went to Montreal on a day that was overcast but the temperature was mild and spring-like and I was able to walk most of the day outdoors and still enjoy myself, still benefit from nature, being under trees, seeing the water melting and most of the paths dry.  Grey days OUTDOORS can still provide some of that mental health benefit that nature is so well-known for and there is still fresh air, the opportunity to walk in parks and to enjoy time away from desks and screens.

So I enjoyed my day as a "flâ·neur" - I checked out a few "green"spaces that were new to me, we enjoyed some fantastic cafés and I had a delicious lunch on my own and I didn't have to fight through the throngs of people that we would most likely find during the summer.  Here is what I saw:


- Faint colour of buildings behind a bare tree -

- Faubour Park in Griffintown (historic site of St Ann's Irish Church) -

- Check out these stairs to nowhere! -

Found between Boulevard Robert-Bourassa and Rue Nazareth at Rue William.  There is also a children's park, an outdoor gym, lounge chairs and an amazing large white statue at the south end of this linear park.

- Great outdoor space along the Lachine Canal - lots of places to sit and lounge - 

- My best sky picture of the day! -

- These are some other new lounge chairs that the City of Montreal is adding to parks which we spotted in a couple of places during our visit -

- Spotted something fun in the trees! (rue de la Gauchetière and rue Peel) -

- Cute little yellow bird houses! -

- Parc Place du Canada -

- Large tree near McGill Campus -

- My favourite small park: Square St. Louis -

- New park for me: Lafontaine Park -


NOTE: Lafontaine Park has an ampitheatre, a restaurant, an art gallery and more!  Many people jog or walk around the lake and there is lots of seating (including picnic tables).  I've added this to my "must return in the summer/fall" list!


- And as always, your trip to Montreal would not be complete without a walk around Old Montreal! -



**Find out what wildlife was spotted on this trip in the following blog post: Urban Wildlife Sightings of a Flâneur in Montreal.  I saw something that I've only seen online or on social media before!



You May Also Like:

Wild. Here. The Green Side of Montreal (April 2019)

Looping around the Island and Industry in Montreal - Urban Nature Discoveries (October 2017)

The Pleasure and Benefits of an Evening Stroll (June 2017)



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