Reconnect with the Great Outdoors

The Simplest Strategies for Getting Back to Nature Can be as Close as Your Own Backyard

University of Georgia
University of Georgia

Sometimes we’re so busy that when we have an unbooked afternoon, we don’t know what to do. The next time you have a little extra time in your schedule, consider doing something off the beaten path – something that will help you reconnect with nature. There are a lot of activities that you can try that don’t hurt the environment, don’t cost anything and give back to you many times over in the form of stress relief. Here are a few easy tips.

Watch the Birds

Bust out some binoculars (or toilet paper rolls glued together for kids). Get out and see birds in your area. Generally speaking, you can look in one of three areas for birds:

• Your backyard

• Along the greenbelt

• In national parks

If you choose to bird watch in your backyard, consider picking up some birdseed from the local shop. You don’t need a birdfeeder, but you’re welcome to buy one if you want. Sprinkle the bird seed along the edge of the yard, and anywhere else you think the birds might congregate, and wait for them to arrive.

Look for quiet trees and brush along the greenbelt, often near water. Once you find a spot, settle yourself on the ground and wait. Keep an eye on waist-level brush as much as you do on the upper parts of the tree. Many birds stay closer to the ground than you would expect.

If you plan to visit a national park, check the park’s website before you go. Most sites offer guides, and will highlight bird watching areas and even tell you which birds you’re likely to see. If the site doesn’t include any bird watching directions, check with the local bird watching society (just do an Internet search), or find a different national park.

Finally, pick up a birding guide before you go, or download the National Audubon Society’s Audubon Birds app, available for iPhones and Androids. The app features over 3,000 images, more than 8 hours of bird sounds and comprehensive field guides for North American bird-watching hotspots.

Shoot Nature

Not with a weapon, of course–with a camera. Creating a fun environment with nature photography is all about your mindset. In other words, don’t go into it thinking you’re going to be the next big thing. Go into it intending to simply enjoy the colors, smells and sounds of nature. Bend down, or climb a rock or hill to get a new perspective. Try extreme close-ups and play with light, shadow and space. If you want some sort of material purpose, take pictures for Facebook or other photo share sites. Your best photos will make for great phone and desktop backgrounds, and can even be used as part of a personalized calendar, cards or photo collage for holiday gifts.

Ride (or Hike) the Greenbelt

Many towns, large and small, have some form of a greenbelt. Take your bike out and get to know it. If it’s warm out try to locate part of the greenbelt that runs along the river. Wear shorts and consider bringing along some sandals in a bag. As you ride along the river, look for a place that you can easily stick your feet in and enjoy the cool water. If you’re really feeling up to it, pack yourself a lunch and ride the greenbelt as far in one direction as you can go, then stop and eat lunch in that spot. When you feel rested, head back home. This works particularly well if you have kids and can find a playground on the way. Schedule lunch and playing at the playground before biking back home.

For colder temps, go for a brisk hike instead, look for signs of the changing seasons and tracks in the snow.

Build a Garden

Did you know that many gardeners didn’t start out with a full-sized garden? I know I didn’t. Many of us start with a small window seal of flowers or a few vegetables on the porch. Try it yourself. Visit the local gardening shop and find something (a flower or a vegetable) that you think you’ll enjoy and that doesn’t need too much care. You might be surprised at how much you enjoy it.

These are just a few ideas to help you engage with nature and have some fun in a sustainable way. They’re by no means profound, but I hope they’ll provide a gentle kick in the pants. Don’t let colder temps, or holiday stress, get you down (and sick). Instead, get out and try one of these (or all of them!). If you enjoy the activity, share it with a friend and let us know what you did in the comment section below. We’d love to hear.

ERNIE ALLISON is a nature writer with a particular interest in birds and bird conservation. He writes for bird feeder provider