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Does this nature come in small?
A month ago I read a column about moving away from Toronto. It was one of those clichéd stories about someone departing the unfeeling megalopolis for the small town, where the houses are affordable, the community smaller, and life therefore perfect. There was a throwaway line about the author’s former life, in which he found himself, “settling for a ‘hike’ through High Park, because that is the closest thing we can find to wilderness.” I chafed because I love High Park, and run there weekly. Nature comes in all shapes and sizes, and the restorative benefits of a postage-size stamp of urban greenery are nothing to scoff at.
We know that nature is the gateway drug to caring about this planet of ours. It’s also a tonic for the anxiety of the modern condition, as Richard Louv so aptly observed when he coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder. But as we become an increasingly urban planet, we’re going to have to take some of our nature cure in the city, and appreciate the perfectly respectable loveliness of a tiny, perhaps even manicured urban park. The benefits of said park are still profound. Studies have shown that it takes neither a ton of time nor vast square fernage to enjoy the restorative benefits of nature. Even looking out a window has been linked to positive effects.
Which is not to say that nature exists merely to restore humans. We need to disabuse people of the idea that anything less than a remote forest doesn’t count. It all counts.
Last week I was on a neat panel organized by Apathy is Boring. One of the panelists, Joshua Stribbell, president of the National Urban Inuit Youth Council, spoke of the very concept of wilderness being a fairly modern idea unto itself. Wilderness as prized, untrammelled space, as land to be ‘“conserved.” Or trespassed upon by the lucky few who get to leave Toronto for more affordable cities with better access to pristine green stuff. It’s a false juxtaposition, in which those fortunate enough to travel or move to remote lands are able to access this heightened wilderness, while the rest of us rubes trudge to the overcrowded city park to enjoy our second-rate shrubbery.
In truth, the urban greenscape is a carbon sink that helps city dwellers feel the green, lest we all burn a million litres of gasdriving to the country to take dewy pictures of ourselves in sunflower fields. I’m constantly surprised at the peacefulness I can feel in a city of three million people. Sometimes I have High Park entirely to myself on a crisp Saturday morning. I can jog as slowly as I like. I cross an empty highway and run to our waterfront park, where I feel a million miles away from concrete and the detritus of Roll up the Rim contests. If you don’t know what a Roll up the Rim contest is, you are lucky to know true wilderness.
This is not to say that it wouldn’t be lovely to live somewhere quiet and verdant, too. We must all find our green and revel in it as best we can, regardless of its shape or smell. But green is where you find it. When we act like nature is only found in panoramic vistas and wildlife documentaries, we’re disconnecting ourselves from our planet. Nature belongs in our daily lives, not on a pedestal. And nature shaming is for the birds. I tell myself that I will leave my office each day, to take a walk or sit for a few minutes in the lovely park just outside our building. Often, the day flies by, and I neglect to do so. Which is ridiculous, because when I do, I feel so much better. I work better, too.