Mountainfilm: Florence Williams, Nature Is Good For You

Mountainfilm takes place Friday-Monday, May 26- May 29, 2017. Purchase passes here. Also see story on Mountainfilm’s symposium and subject of its new initiative, The New Normal, here. Presenters presented here, among them, Florence Williams, author/contributing editor to Outside, a fellow at the Center for Humans and Nature, and a visiting scholar at George Washington University. 

Florence Williams is everywhere you want to be at Mountainfilm: a presentation at Telluride’s historic Sheridan Opera House, Saturday, May 27, 9:15 a.m. and at a Town Talk at 5:30 p.m. On Sunday, May 28, Florence is featured at another Town Talk at 8:00 a.m. and again at 10 a.m., part of Mountainfilm’s Free-Range Program (meet at hospitality). She will also be on hand at Mountainfilm’s Reading Frenzy on Sunday, May 28. starting at 2 p.m, Madeline Hotel & Residences, to sign copies of her latest book, “The Nature Fix.”

Scroll down to listen to Florence Williams’ podcast, learn more about Florence,“The Nature Fix,” and a life lived at the nexus of environment, health, and science. 

Florence Williams, author, “The Nature Fix,” a featured speaker at Mountainfilm 2017.

An apple a day is not the only answer.

Not enough of an answer.

Have you been following, as we have, the Amazing Adventures of Telluride locals Jen and Travis Julia and their two kiddos, Hudson and Vivian, on moxiefamiyadventures.com? As many know, Jen left her day job of 17 years as beloved founder and artistic director of the Sheridan Opera House Young People’s Theatre to sail with her family for, what?, two years, to see what they could see at sea and beyond.

Here are a few inspiring words from Moxie’s latest blog:

“We’ve been on the boat seven months, and traveling for ten.  It seems like an eternity and it seems like no time at all. There’s so much to process, sometimes it’s hard for me to express how I feel about all of this constant change and newness. But the part of this of which we are most certain is the amazing good this experience is doing for our children. Trav and I have seen them blossom, explode, gain confidence and skills at amazing rates. They take on the world in a different way now, a way that staying home could never have provided them. Shy Vivian who used to linger on the lonely “buddy bench” in kindergarten now runs up to kids she’s never met, in every country, and drums up a game of Red Light Green Light or Family (it’s like House, and everyone vies to play the mom). Hudson recently brought his ukelele to a restaurant and spontaneously performed a 3 song set. Both kids are so much more independent, more capable, ask more questions, consider things in a different light. It’s more than just learning how to sail, it’s that they’re really learning how to think…”

Chalk it up to alpha waves – at least according to Florence Williams, a featured guest at the 39th annual Mountainfilm, the start of Telluride’s summer festival season.

Perhaps the transformative powers of being out in nature is a giant “DUH,” for those living in Telluride, but we are guessing your conclusion – as many conclusions on the subject to date – is largely empirical and qualitative. It is not based on the study of alpha waves for example. However, an evolving science – nature neuroscience to be exact – focused on the impact of the nature on our minds and bodies suggests that regular exposure can now take its rightful place next to kale, aerobic exercise, yoga, and meditation as one of the newest – and oldest – miracle cures, an antidote to the modern malaise of stress and screen addiction and the secret to a longer, happier, healthier, more creative life.

According to the latest research, as little as 15 minutes in the woods has been shown to reduce test subjects’ levels of cortisol, the stress hormone and lower blood pressure. Increase exposure to the sights, sounds, and smells of nature to 45 minutes and most individuals experience improvements in cognitive performance. Researchers in England have shown that access to green spaces reduces income-related mental health disparities. And the awe of being at a place like the Grand Canyon – or Telluride – or staring at the Milky Way affirms the mystery of the unknown and takes us out of ourselves. In awe, we stop staring at our belly buttons, stop ruminating (which contributes to depression), and magically feel connected to the larger world.

In “The Nature Fix,” award-winning author Williams easily, breezily, sassily demonstrates that our connection to nature is far more important to our cognition and peace of mind than we ever knew and that even limited exposure to the natural world can enhance our creativity and elevate our mood. After all, as she points out, we evolved outside. Being indoors wears us down.

Williams concludes a podcast with Outside about “The Nature Fix” with an injunction to “Get kids out in nature.” (See above, moxiefamilyadventures.)

“Imagine a miracle drug that could ease many of the stresses of modern life — a combination mood enhancer and smart pill that might even encourage the remission of cancer. Now imagine that this cure-all was an old-fashioned folk remedy: Just take a hike in the woods or a walk in the park. No prescription necessary.

“That’s the proposition of Florence Williams’ fascinating ‘The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative.’ ‘We suffer from an ‘epidemic dislocation from the outdoors,’ Williams writes, and it’s destructive to our mental and physical health. The therapy is straightforward. ‘The more nature, the better you feel…’

“…Williams, a contributing editor at Outside magazine, presents all of this with the zip of a trail runner covering a lot of ground sure-footedly. She’s got the pop-sci presentation down pat…,” raved The New York Times.

“…beautifully written, thoroughly enjoyable exposition of a major principle of human life now supported by evidence in biology, psychology and medicine,”, said famed biologist Edward O. Wilson.

The Mountainfilm tribe may not need a scientist or a book to tell us to get out and smell the roses, but according to research Williams found from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, that’s not everybody. Those findings suggest nature-based recreation has declined 35 percent in the U.S. over the past four decades.

The genesis of “The Nature Fix” is an article Williams wrote for Outside in 2012 about a practice in Japan known as shinrin-yoku  or “forest bathing.” The Japanese apparently regard hanging out in the woods as standard preventative medicine.

“Ahimsa (non-harming) begins with yourself. The planet is your extended body: the air is your breath; the trees and oceans are your lungs; and the earth recycles your flesh and bones. Self-compassion is the beginning of compassion for others,” Deepak Chopra, MD.

And the Japanese are in good company: Beethoven purportedly drew inspiration from rocks and trees; the poet Wordsworth composed while stomping over a heath; and former Telluride denizen Nicola Tesla invented the electric motor while walking through a park.

To learn more about how Mother Nature works on our bodies to lure us into the mountains and woods, listen my podcast with Florence Williams.

More about Florence Williams:

Florence Williams is a contributing editor at Outside Magazine, the host of Outside’s new XX Factor, (a new podcast series), and a freelance writer for the New York TimesNew York Times Magazine, National Geographic, The New York Review of BooksSlate, Mother JonesHigh Country NewsO-Oprah, W., Bicycling, and numerous other publications. She is also the writer and host of the new Audible Original series, “Breasts Unbound.”

A fellow at the Center for Humans and Nature and a visiting scholar at George Washington University, her work focuses on the environment, health and science.

In 2007-2008, she was a Scripps Fellow at the Center of Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado. She has received many awards, including six magazine awards from the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the John Hersey Prize at Yale. Her work has been anthologized in numerous books, including Outside 25, the New Montana Story, How the West Was Warmed and Best American Science and Nature Writing 2008. She was named “Author of the week” by The Week in May, 2012. The Wall Street Journal calls her writing “droll and crisp,” which makes her feel like a pastry.

Williams’ first book, BREASTS: A Natural and Unnatural History  (W.W. Norton 2012) received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in science and technology and the 2013 Audie in general nonfiction. It was also named a notable book of 2012 by the New York Times.

Florence Williams serves on the board of her favorite non-profit, High Country News, and lives with her family in Washington, D.C.

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Susan Viebrock

Susan Viebrock

Susan is Telluride Inside… and Out’s founder and editor-in-chief, the visionary on the team, in charge of content, concept and development. For 19+ years, Susan has covered Telluride’s cultural economy, which includes non-profits and special events. Much of her writing features high-profile individuals in the arts, entertainment, business, and politics. She is a former Citibank executive specializing in strategic planning and new business development, and a certified Viniyoga instructor.
Susan Viebrock

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