Photo essay: Restorative tonics abound in Florida

To beat the COVID-19 blues, get outside and relish nature’s many gifts

A runner takes advantage of a shady trail in San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park. The park’s state webpage invites people to ‘Explore one of the finest and largest remaining mature hardwood forests in Florida.’ Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

In these times of COVID-19 and other stressors, being inside all day, every day is difficult. Being outdoors can help us feel better and be better.

“Our expeditions away from routine are not for the purpose of discovering wildness in the world outside ourselves but rather for recovering it within us,” writes John Elder In Pilgrimage to Villambrosa.

We can work in the yard, garden (it is not too early to plant in Florida), walk, hike, or bike a park; stroll a beach; or bird.

Fresh air and tree “medicine.” Conservation biologist Daniel Janzen says we can be “at the top of our game” with occasional forays into a green world. Studies show exposure to trees boosts our immune systems, lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, improves mood and ability to focus, accelerates recovery from surgery or illness, increases energy levels and improves sleep.

Try getting some sand between your toes. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

A place to use all our senses. Feeling sand between your toes at the beach or pine needles underfoot in the woods pulls us into the landscape. The sound of the great horned owl hooting softly as he prepares for his nightly hunt evokes a totally different feeling from the cartoonish sound of the laughing gull. The smell of fresh air and seaweed, the mustiness of earth and the dampness of a foggy morning all invigorate us.

Beauty. Nature insists on being beautiful, not just in spectacular vistas, but also amid the mundane, the ineffable. “[F]rom so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved” was Charles Darwin’s take on beauty. The play of light and shadow on a trail, dew on a dragonfly’s wings, grains of sand clinging to a stem of a sunflower, a passing butterfly, reflections in a raindrop are all startling to see. At night, we can reflect on an azure sky sprinkled with stars, bats streaking past like earthbound meteors or a thin sliver of moon setting in the western sky.

Gulls and other shorebirds enjoy the beach just as people do. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

A change of pace. Nature is not just a place to exercise. Sometimes the important thing is to just be. Sitting on a park bench can be challenging for 21st century Americans who want always to be “doing.” Henry David Thoreau sat in his doorway whole mornings at Walden Pond.

Gardening. Digging in the dirt can be satisfying, as any kid will tell you. Planting is even more fun. It does not have to be a regimen of weeding, fertilizing and watering. If you plant trees, flowers and shrubs local to the area, birds, butterflies and bees will supply you daily doses of beauty. And you will want to avoid pesticides. Those poisons kill not just unwanted bugs but also the creatures that eat the bugs, the creatures that eat the creatures, and all the way up the food chain to us.

A zebra longwing lights on butterfly weed. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Creativity. Nature brings out the artist in us. Plein air painting has been done for centuries. Look online for classes. Photography requires nothing more than a mobile phone. Drumming circles meet weekly at local beaches.

Connectivity. In The Man Who Walked through Time, Colin Fletcher, who walked the length of Grand Canyon National Park, writes that he experienced “a kind of harmony between the rock and my senses.” For me this morning, it was two mourning doves sitting on a nearby pine, watching the sunrise as I was doing the same, eating my breakfast on the lanai. Another morning, it will be ground fog drifting across the treetops that makes me feel one with the earth.

Change of pace can be invigorating. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Green spaces. Sarasota and Manatee counties have dozens of parks. Beaches, parks, botanical gardens and boat launch sites can be found online or in printed local guides. Carlton Reserve in Venice and Myakka River State Park in Sarasota offer miles of walking, hiking, biking trails. Drive through Myakka River State Park, stopping to do the Canopy Walk or the Bird Walk. Identify neighborhoods that have trees. You will find surprises amidst the concrete and macadam.

Gardening is good for the soul. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

On a shopping expedition, scan the horizon for trees. In Sarasota, Twilight Street off busy Bee Ridge is a bit of old-time Florida, with small houses set among immense live oaks. Government buildings and even industrial parks have remnants of what they once were: wetlands and pinelands. Landfills are magnets for birds. Cemeteries, especially if they are old, are other oases. Compile your own list of favorite places.

Plein air painting is a passion pursued outdoors. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

A restorative tonic! Wherever you find yourself, tap into Nature’s energy (Qi), beautifully defined by Michael Sullivan in The Arts of China. “Qi is that cosmic spirit (literally, breath or vapor) that vitalizes all things, that gives life and growth to the trees, movement to the water, energy to human beings and that is exhaled by the mountains as clouds and mist.”

Mourning doves offer soothing background music for any outing, even if a woodpecker is tapping out its own notes . Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri

Fran Palmeri is the author of “Florida Lost and Found,” a book of essays and photographs, which can be found on Amazon.

Surveying a landscape shrouded in ground fog can be invigorating. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri
Main Street in Sarasota has wide welcoming sidewalks. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri
Rainbow Springs in Dunellen is a popular spot for lovers of the water. Photo contributed by Fran Palmeri