In July of last year I heard about an initiative Ontario Parks was hosting for the month of August: the 30 x 30 Nature Challenge. The 30 x 30 concept was created by the David Suzuki Foundation in 2012 with a goal “to reconnect human beings with nature for the sake of their health and mental well-being.” The challenge is a simple one: spend 30 minutes a day in nature, every day for 30 days. I did not think the Challenge would be at all challenging for me. (It’s unusual for me to spend less than 30 minutes in nature any day except during the most inclement weather.) But I decided to participate because I thought the 30 x 30 concept was a great one to promote.
The first day of the Challenge I did not do anything special. I had almost 200 litres of apples littering my back yard (early windfall from one very large tree). The apples needed to be collected, and it took me 3 hours to do so. So I was outside in nature that day for 6 times the 30 minutes asked for by the Challenge.
August 2nd was just a normal day for me too. I took my dogs for a walk. I live in a small town with many trees on just about every street in my neighbourhood, so even the (almost) everyday occurrence of walking my dogs is time spent in nature.
So far, my 30 x 30 Challenge was shaping up to be just as non-eventful as I had expected. Then, late in the day on August 2nd, I experienced something that threatened to derail my participation in the challenge: an episode of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV).
I was nearing the end of my daily yoga asana practice when a change in the orientation of my head set off the vertigo. This was not such a problem for my yoga practice that night as all I had left to do was shavasana (a pose which does not provoke the vertigo). But I was worried about what the BPPV meant for my participation in the 30 x 30 Challenge (not to mention my personal challenge of practising yoga asana every day for a year—a goal I was at that time only 2 weeks away from achieving). I’d only experienced one episode of BPPV prior to that night. That previous episode had lasted for 7 days and been so bad I’d been unable to do anything for the first 2 days other than lie on my back and stare straight up at the ceiling. I crawled into bed—slowly—and hoped the BPPV would not be so bad this time.
I got my wish. When I awoke on August 3rd, I still had vertigo, but my condition had improved to about where I was at on the 4th day of my previous BPPV episode. I was able to sit up, and even to walk—albeit slowly and without turning my head—without triggering the vertigo. I did not feel up to doing anything too energetic, but I made it outside for my 30 minutes in the evening, sitting on a lawn chair to watch the fireflies dance, listen to the crickets chirp and the frogs sing, and gaze up at the outline of tree branches arching over my head, creating dark patches in the starry night sky. (I also got in my yoga practice by doing a few minutes of gentle, restorative poses on my back.)
By the morning of August 4th, my BPPV episode had cleared up entirely. My neighbourhood was caught in the grip of a fierce heat wave, however, with a humidex pushing 40C. I was grateful to have yard work to do that involved the use of a garden hose.
August 5th saw me doing more yard work—harvesting fruit this time. On the 6th I was out of town most of the day, visiting friends in London. I took the opportunity to do some rollerskating on the paved trails which wind through town alongside the Thames River, passing through a network of urban green spaces that provide Londoners with excellent opportunities to get outside and experience nature without ever having to leave the city.
[Laura shows off her rainbow roller skating attire (and a baby bruise from early in her roller derby career).]
Then our heat wave returned.
I spent the next 6 days of the Challenge looking for ways to get outside and still beat the heat. I enjoyed a campfire cookout one night and a late night hike with my dogs the next. On August 9th I arose bright and early and drove down to Lake Erie to do some sunrise yoga on the beach. On the 10th I stayed inside through the hottest part of the day but returned to the beach in the evening for some sunset yoga. The temperature down by the lake was much more pleasant than in town where I live.
[Laura salutes the setting sun during a yoga session on the beach at Erieau.]
I returned to the lake again on the next two days, to a different, darker beach, in the wee hours of the morning to watch the Perseid meteor shower. I even tried my hand at a little long-exposure night sky photography on the second night.
[Not the greatest of photos, but I did catch a couple of Perseids.]
Then, on August 13th, we had rain. Glorious rain! It was such a welcome relief after the previous week’s heat, I spent my 30 minutes dancing in it.
[Laura enjoys dancing in the rain.]
On August 14th I enjoyed another wet 30 x 30 activity, returning to the beach at Erieau for a swim. On the 15th I stayed closer to home and visited my local “Fit Park” for a workout. I’d seen these outdoor fitness parks cropping up in a number of communities in recent years and was thrilled when even my small town (population < 5000 people) got one. They’re a great addition to public green spaces and a great strength-training opportunity for people who perhaps cannot afford the cost of a gym membership or just prefer to get a little dose of nature with their workout.
[Laura checks out the workout equipment in her local Fit Park.]
August 16th was the final day of my “Yoga Asana Every Day for a Year” challenge (which I blogged about here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2016/08/18/366-days-of-yoga-guest-post/). To celebrate, I treated myself to a full day at home yoga retreat. So, naturally, my 30 x 30 Challenge activity was yoga too. I took my handstand practice outside and was rewarded with the closest thing to a freestanding handstand I had ever, up until that point, achieved: I kicked up and “caught air” for longer than 1 second!
[Laura practises her handstands outside: not quite there yet, but getting closer!]
After completing over 6 hours of yoga asana practice at my home retreat, I decided to take a more physically restful day the next day and spent some time writing in the woods for my 30 x 30 activity.
[Laura takes a break from her desk with a writing session in the embrace of an old tree.]
I did not run much during the 30 x 30 Challenge due to high heat and humidity, but I took advantage of the light cast by the full moon to go for a night run around my local marsh on the 18th. The following day, I stayed home and spent my time in nature playing with my dogs in our back yard. And on the 20th I stayed home as well to do more yard work (juicing apples this time—which I always do outside due to the mess).
August 21st I set up my slackline and did some yoga slacking between the trees on my front lawn.
[Laura attempts some yoga poses on her slackline.]
On August 22nd I cycled to my local conservation area and hiked around for 2.5 hours, taking in the sights. I took many close-up photographs, seeking out as many different colours as I could find amongst the fruit, flowers and insects of the conservation area.
[Colourful fruits, flowers, and insects of C.M. Wilson Conservation Area.]
A month-long nature adventure would not be complete for me without camping. But I had neither the time nor the money necessary to head off into the wilderness. So I pitched my tent in my own back yard.
[Laura’s golden retriever, Trudy, was happy to camp out too.]
The morning of August 24th I stayed outside to enjoy breakfast in the yard. On the 25th I spent some time gardening, tending to my tomato plants. On the 26th I went for another nature hike, this time around a small marsh which is walking distance from my home. As I’d focussed primarily on sight and colour during my hike in the conservation area, I decided to take this hike a bit differently and concentrated on experiencing the textures of nature. I left the gravel path and walked right at the edge of the marsh so I could touch the plants and feel the waxy, ribbed petals of the marsh mallows; the prickly thistles with soft petals at their tips, some turned already into fluffy seeds; the suede-like hides of the bulrushes with their hard, round stems, pointy tips, and smooth, flat leaves; and the delicate blossoms of Queen Anne’s lace, some now curled up into clusters of tiny oval fruits fringed with delicate spines. I also wore minimalist shoes so I could feel the ground beneath my feet and better feel the differences between unyielding, dry ground and squishy, wet ground; soft, uniform grass and hard, uneven reeds.
[Marsh mallows, thistles, Queen Anne’s lace, and bulrushes provided interesting tactile experiences on a marsh hike.]
August 27th brought another day of rain, this time with thunder and lightening and threats of high winds, torrential downpours, flash floods and hail: all the severe weather events one doesn’t want to get caught in far away from shelter. So I stayed home and spent my 30 minutes in nature enjoying the storm from the safety of my backyard patio.
As I’d already eaten breakfast and dinner outside earlier in the month, I decided on the 28th it was time for a picnic lunch.
[Laura enjoys a picnic lunch under the trees in her backyard.]
On August 29th I got outside bright and early to take advantage of the cooler early morning temperature to go for a run. I chose for my route my favourite trail in town, which winds through a small woodlot behind one of the local public schools. It is the only publicly accessible forested trail in the town where I live. Though this trail is short (I run multiple loops of it when I go), it is a huge blessing to me. It is a blessing in the heat of the summer when I want to go for a run but need some protection from the sun’s sweltering rays. It’s also a blessing in the winter when the trees provide an effective windbreak to shelter me from bitter cold windchill. The trail is a blessing in the spring when rainfall releases so many wonderful aromas from the forest floor. And it’s a blessing in the autumn too: Running in a forest when the colours have turned and leaves have begun to fall, forming a soft, fragrant and colourful carpet beneath my feet is one of my favourite things!
When I reached the woodlot on this morning, I saw that a new sign had been erected at the trail head.
[The sign reads:
“The woodlot before you was once just a grassy playing field. That changed in the 1970s when Bill MacIntosh, a former principal of Harwich Raleigh Public School along with Pop Drewery and Glen Meredith, led the school staff in planting hundreds of little trees.
“Then in the early 1990s, a Harwish Raleigh teacher, Cheryl Wolting, realized the mature woodlot’s potential. She linked the woodlot to the school curriculum and organized the students and staff in creating walking paths. A local farmer, Doug Flook and his family helped trim the paths and trees for over 20 years when the municipality of Chatham-Kent assumed the maintenance.
“This woodlot is an example of individuals working together to make a positive difference for everyone.”]
I had not known the history of the trail before the sign was installed and felt upon reading it immense gratitude for all the people who understood the importance of giving humans access to nature and chose to invest so much of their own time, energy and other resources to make this trail possible for our entire community.
For the final day of my 30 x 30 Nature Challenge I returned to the shore of Lake Erie once more, this time to sit and meditate on all of my experiences taking the Challenge.
[Lake Erie at twilight.]
I sat on the rocks by the water’s edge and enjoyed the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks, the fresh lakeside air, and the fading colours of twilight. Then I hiked the trail that runs between Lake Erie and McGeachy Pond, climbed the lookout tower and enjoyed the view from the top of the tower as the stars began to come out.
When I first embarked on my 30 x 30 Nature Challenge I had not expected the Challenge to have much of an effect on me. The Challenge, after all, was not challenging for me. I could complete it without making any adjustments to my regular everyday life activities. I did make the decision at the outset to attempt to complete as many different “outside in nature” activities over the course of the 30 days as I could within the confines of my limited budget. I’d expected to have some fun with this. But that was about it.
I’d been wrong.
When I sat down at the end of the month to reflect on my experiences over the past 30 days I found that the 30 x 30 Nature Challenge had in fact had a profound effect on me. I’ve always enjoyed spending time in nature and have for as far back as I can remember conceived of myself as someone who appreciates the natural world and the value of spending time in it. But in taking the time to reflect on my experiences during the Challenge, and to think of so many different ways I could experience and appreciate time in nature, I found that my relationship with nature became much more mindful. I’m more aware now of all the small opportunities to experience nature that present themselves in my everyday life and less likely to take them for granted. I think too that the Challenge taught me to have more gratitude for the opportunities I enjoy, both big and small, to spend time in nature.
I’ll be taking the 30 x 30 Nature Challenge again this year, beginning on August 1st. I hope you’ll join me!