"I am a completely indoors person. I can't actually remember the last time I was in a natural setting outside of the city." This occurred to me in 2017 as more of a note of interest, rather than a thought of alarm. At the time I was living in downtown Chicago, working 60+ hour weeks (standard), and traveling frequently (at times weekly, cross country) for work. Days were spent traveling through airports, to taxis, to work sites, to hotels. Exercise (when I could prioritize it), took place in hotel gyms, and on a great day, as a short walk to a restaurant close to work for dinner or a tea break. Weekends consisted of (work), laundry, shopping for supplies (work clothes and minimal groceries - did I mention I never ONCE turned on the oven in my apartment), phoning far away family and friends, and catching up on the odd BBC murder mystery series (and work). At times, I would think "how lovely would it be to book a weekend away somewhere there are more trees - a forest somewhere perhaps."
This is not unusual. Many adults across North America prioritize work and squeeze in exercise (likely indoors in a Northern climate) when possible. We are all familiar with the statistics. Prior to the pandemic, averages of screen time (assumed mostly indoors), for adults averaged close to 11 hours per day, and 3+ hours for children (many sources). Research post March 2020 estimates that this has at least doubled in many cases for children (and likely increased for adults where possible to squeeze in more).
Given this, conservative estimates for screen time in 2021 per year would be well over 2000 hours per year for children 0-5 years.
Yet, like me in 2017, this, for many has become normal. If not normal, and in many cases acknowledged as worrying, at least necessary to support the kind of life we have evolved into (to pay education loans, mortgage, car insurance, utility bills, kids sports, etc., etc., etc.)
In 2019 following the birth of our second child, I read this quote:
Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.
- Gary Snyder
Around the same time, I came across an Instagram account, 1000 Hours Outside (@1000hoursoutside), which advocates a challenge for families to spend 1000 hours outside in a calendar year. The main site contributor, Ginny Yurich, came up with this challenge after recognizing the benefits (for her own) and her children's mental health.
Being that "once a consultant, always a consultant," I loved the idea of something beneficial for my children that I could measure, as well as safely prioritize during times of global pandemic (and Ginny has a fantastic, free tracker, which interestingly includes Gary Snyder's words of wisdom).
Now when I think back to that day in 2017, it fills me with: shock, that this thought did not disturb me; disgust, that this was actually the case; and absolute gratitude that life circumstances changed such that I was able to drastically change my reality.
Since taking up the 1000 hours challenge in January 2021 (a few weeks in), I actually cannot imagine a day now without going outside for a significant period of time. My body starts craving the wind, sun, and space shortly into the morning. Where I can remember winters in Chicago feeling cold, anxious to get back to the warmth of the great indoors (greeting the foyer of any building with a sigh of relief), after only a few weeks of spending significant time outdoors this past winter, I felt the same relief upon opening the door and stepping out into a fresh, crisp winter day.
Fast forward four months in and I smile to myself in the morning, when the first (or sometimes, but rarely, second), thing my 18 month daughter does after being released from her sleep sac, is to seek out her sweater, boots, hat, and jacket. Once dressed (usually over pyjamas), she follows this directly by finding her brother's sweater and clearly directing him to put it on. Many mornings we will take our breakfast "with the ducks" on our favourite log in the valley near our house vs spending the extra time indoors before heading out.
All of this to say that it is amazing how ingrained we can become in what I now view as consumption, progress, and achievement (speaking strictly from my own experience), and live as if we exist separately from the "lovely thought" of a forest somewhere that we might get to visit some time. Nature has taken hold inside of me, and seemingly inside of my kids, in a way that I now cannot imagine life where it is not revered, protected, and more than prioritized, considered home.
If this speaks to you, some interesting reads:
The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from A Secret World
How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature
Follow our 1000 hour adventures on Instagram: @nurturingthrough_nature