The din is deafening. It's morning at our local SPCA, and all anyone wants to do is get outside. I start planning in bed, during the snooze minutes between alarms. Rico will go first, since his kennel is closest and he "holds it" longer than anyone would think is physically possible. Then, the little pair on the other side, the sweetest little lap dog ever and her chubster kennel mate, who need a break from the noise. The skinny hound Christoff is also heroically house trained, but I can't leave him in an outdoor run -- he's a "fence climber," they say, though a perfect gentleman on the leash. So I'll get Miss Energy-Plus Brittany out and into a balls-riddled pen before walking him. She'll be a great adoptee -- chocolate lab and full of love -- if only she can get enough exercise. Then to Tilly, whose kennel gets no window light and lies depressed until I stop at her door, bearing the promise of fresh air and sunshine. I map out my strategy; but when I open the main doors, all planning goes out the window. The air is thick with desperation. Each dog needs outdoor time. Now.
But don't we all? We're inclined to think of animals as categorically different from our human being selves, capable as we are of planning, of long-term memory, of delayed gratification... we with our opposable thumbs. But at the end of the day, and first thing in the morning too, we're simply animals. (I mean that in the best possible way.) And we need to go outside. Saturday is national Get Outdoors Day. Great benefit awaits. Locations all over the United States are participating with free admission to parks and loads of community programs. But simply sitting on the back stoop is good, too. Have a look at the sky, study the ways of whatever insect happens across your path, or close your eyes and listen for a bird.
In 2005, Richard Louv coined the term "nature deficit disorder," having observed the psychological and physical cost to children deprived of time outdoors and the opportunity to connect with the nonhuman natural world beyond screens and teams. Turns out, the condition applies to adults, too, preoccupied as we are with desk work and iPads and movies on demand. A recent study shows that "exposure to nature can restore prefrontal cortex-mediated executive processes." In other words, being outside can help you pay attention better. Take that, ADHD.
It's easy, given today's circumstances, to forget that in the architecture of our bones, the streams and tributaries of our veins, the sophisticated chemical composite of our central nervous system, in whatever it is that we call our spirit our soul, there exists a longing for connection of the most elemental sort. If that's too woo-woo-y for you, consider that it's a lot easier to lose those pesky extra pounds by taking a hike than by taking in another show. Get outside. It's good for you... and for the world.
If there's anything that otherwise disparate religions share in common, it's the value they each place, with different vocabulary and different means, on getting outside of oneself - of connecting with something greater than the individual. Getting outside of the house, attending to what is not-self, which the non-human natural world offers in great and awesome abundance, is good for the soul. In the process it exercises humility and empathy, stimulates creativity, and maybe just maybe promotes a kind of care that makes space for what lies beyond one's own immediate need and desire. That's good for the planet - for your butterfly neighbor and for your kids' kids, too.
So, take advantage of this day. Whoever you are and wherever you live, opportunities abound, from visiting your local park to paddling a nearby river to parking your lawn chair on the back stoop. There are all sorts of lofty reasons for getting outside. But hey, it's also just plain fun. Ask any of the dogs.