Spending Time in Nature

Utah is a great state for nature lovers and apparently that may make us all a bit more creative.

According to KSL, a new study revealed that spending several days in nature actually improved scores on creativity tests:

The idea behind the result is that modern life taxes up an excessive amount of our attention. Ringing cell phones, computer notifications, sirens, cars and the like all distract us from a particular task we are trying to accomplish and force our brains to focus on them. It’s these sudden events that tend to drain our “executive attentional system,” [U. psychology professor David] Strayer said.

The best thing about these findings is that in Utah, and especially Provo, it’s really easy to get out into nature. From my house, for example, I can bike to several backpacking trails that can start a days-long adventure in the wilderness. If I drive, there are dozens of other nature opportunities near by. In many places that wouldn’t be possible at all, and few locations in the U.S. have as dramatic and accessible outdoor scenery as Provo.

In addition to hiking trails, Provo also has a large lake.

While the KSL article fittingly mentions Thoreau, when it comes to wilderness and the West, I prefer Wallace Stegner. Stegner spent a great deal of time in Utah, and wrote extensively about the area. Perhaps most appropriate, his famous Wilderness Letter calls natural landscapes an “intangible and spiritual resource.” It seems, to me, that Stegner was identifying something similar to the findings of this recent study; both show that there is something cleansing about the wilderness. Writing about Wayne County Utah — a place where he says one may see God — he continues,

Save a piece of country like that intact, and it does not matter in the slightest that only a few people every year will go into it. That is precisely its value. Roads would be a desecration, crowds would ruin it. But those who haven’t the strength or youth to go into it and live can simply sit and look. They can look two hundred miles, clear into Colorado: and looking down over the cliffs and canyons of the San Rafael Swell and the Robbers’ Roost they can also look as deeply into themselves as anywhere I know. And if they can’t even get to the places on the Aquarius Plateau where the present roads will carry them, they can simply contemplate the idea, take pleasure in the fact that such a timeless and uncontrolled part of earth is still there.

These are some of the things wilderness can do for us. That is the reason we need to put into effect, for its preservation, some other principle that the principles of exploitation or “usefulness” or even recreation. We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.

Stegner’s argument is more abstract than a scientific study, and his objective is somewhat different, but both point to the importance of natural landscapes. And in Provo, those landscapes are particularly proximate to our homes.

A plaque on the Provo River Trail.


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