Laura Parker Roerden writes, consults, and speaks about kids’ connection to themselves, each other, and the earth. She directs Ocean Matters, a nonprofit that helps save threatened marine resources. She believes good food can connect us to the earth and one another and thinks today’s young people are reason to be hopeful about the environmental problems facing us. She lives on Jo-Erl Farm, a fifth generation family farm with her husband, three boys, an assortment of fruit trees and farm animals. She is currently wearing a surplice neckline Jenny. You can find her online at Salt from the Earth and on Twitter @LParkerRoerden.
I once was in Paris for no more than thirty-six hours. Cultural icons like the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower beckoned. But I found myself attracted to the fabric shops that crowded the streets near Montmartre. I don’t sew and I wasn’t looking for curtains or anything in particular, but I was drawn like an infant reaching for its mother to these crowded warehouses and their simple tribute to beauty. I spent hours touching textured cloth, opening bolts with luxurious shades of yellows and blues that reminded me of wildflower pastures on a summer’s day. The feel of the sun was baked into the best; others suggested the gentle spray of the ocean on geometric planes of rock. I was nearly drunk on a deep feeling of well-being by the end of the day. The world does not have to be beautiful, I thought as I watched the sunset over the Seine later that night. But it is.
What is about looking at beauty that feels so restorative? Why do we so often plan our vacations to beautiful places in nature? Believe it or not, there is a scientific explanation for our attraction to beauty and real health benefits to be gained by immersing ourselves in it. Our ancestors navigated their dangerous world by the patterns and colors they perceived in it and a storehouse of experiences they had associated with it. These patterns told them the favorable places in nature where they could safely eat and drink water, reproduce, and raise their children.
To this day, we prefer open plains and vistas, where evolutionary biologists tells us we would have had in our distant past the advantage of a clear view of oncoming predators.
We are drawn to water and the color blue, where our needs for food and fresh water would have been more easily met, building near the shore and retreating to water when we are stressed and exhausted.
A stand of deep green pine trees suggests a cozy, protected place to build a fire in winter away from the elements. Patterns such as stripes etched into sand would have warned of dangerous winds and other exposure to the elements.
The benefit of time in beautiful places in nature is not limited to ancient man. A growing body of research shows that modern humans respond deeply to the sense of recovery or “home” and beauty we find in nature. Our lifestyle today demands much of the frontal lobe of our brain, which lights up like a Christmas tree while we multitask and toggle between electronic media. Focused time in nature activates other parts of our brains, giving our fatigued front lobe (associated with executive function, cognitive control, and supervisory attention) a break. Areas of the brain associated with emotions, pleasure and empathy can now take over, providing a calming influence that is measurable in brains scans and blood tests alike.
Jacque Cousteau famously said, “We protect what we love.” I might add, we love what we come to know. So take some time to enjoy the patterns and beauty you find in nature. And reflect that beauty in your surroundings and clothes. You’ll be giving the gift of restorative health to all who encounter it.
Find out more about how teenagers are protecting what they love and taking a break in beauty, through Ocean Matters and our summer marine biology programs for young people, and find the right surplice neckline for you at the shop.