Why we need nature


Years ago, I worked in a busy London advertising agency. I routinely spent eight hours a day in front of a computer, sometimes even longer. Pizzas and beers in the office around 10pm were commonplace and it was before the smoking ban too, so I had an ashtray next to my screen and smoked and drank coffee while I worked, surrounded by the constant vibration of technology.

Traffic rumbled by on the busy London roads outside. I caught buses, tube trains and taxis. I was leading a Successful Life.

I was also young. Resilient. Good at physically bouncing back. With a bar downstairs, it was easy to be very un-sober by 7pm, but I went to the gym three or four times a week and I was slim. I looked the part.

And then I went to New Zealand and, as part of three-week holiday, I joined a sea kayaking tour around Abel Tasman.

We were coming to the end of our short adventure and the last hour had been particularly tough. The sea was rough and worse weather was looming. Our guide was starting to look concerned (not a good sign in a someone who literally does ‘being outside’ like a pro).

Dragging our paddles through the water felt like two steps forwards and one step back. I was tired, a little anxious and uncomfortably aware that I wasn’t fit at all – not in any kind of useful way.

It was a physical challenge and my stamina was giving out. But we finally made it to calmer waters, and I remember sitting back in the kayak with considerable relief and an enormous sense of achievement.

And then suddenly, I saw a large, dark fin break through the water just a few metres away. At first I thought it was a whale, it seemed so immense in the water beside me, but it turned out to be a dolphin, playing between the boats, curious and unafraid. And I couldn't remember a time when I'd felt so happy or alive.

I was wind-blown, exhilarated, complete, and felt totally part of the world: a wild, beautiful, unpredictable world of secret-laden seas and shape-shifting skies.

There’s an abundance of nature out there, beyond our towns and cities, and I think too often we forget, beyond our air-conditioned offices, technology and cleverness, that we are human animals who need to be a part of it. To be healthy in body and mind, we need fresh air, warm sun and to flex out muscles beyond the limiting confines of bricks and mortar.

We also forget that in an 'odds stacked against it’ moment of creation, we emerged out of nothing and we'll be going back there, in the blink of an eye, on a journey we don't understand.

And with that in mind, perhaps there’s nothing that really matters more than those moments when we feel most vital and connected to that force of nature that is us and surrounds us, because it's where we belong. It’s home – and our bodies know it.

Image: Iswanto Arif