In terrible and trying times, such as what COVID-19 has brought to the world, it’s important to not only adapt quickly to any changes needed to cope with circumstances, but also to search for silver linings wherever we can. People are built that way — we need hope, we need optimism, we need to find the good in order to persevere with an uplifted heart.
As I sit here taking a moment away from preparations for our first Family Retreats session that begins this Sunday, I find myself reflecting on the blessings of being surrounded entirely by nature here at Camp Alleghany. The great outdoors pulse with an energy that has a naturally restorative effect on our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. I feel it. And the beauty and energy coursing through camp are things the others here at camp mention in one way or another every day.
We love it!
The week that we’ve been here has been so uplifting for me, especially in my most quiet moments in a morning walk, that I think it’s important to explore some of the ways time outdoors is being talked about in the age of COVID-19 as an important part of overall health and wellness for people of all ages.
Benefits of the Outdoors on Health
Interestingly, if you look back at the world’s most memorable pandemic-level health scare of the past century, the 1918-1919 flu, sometimes called “The Spanish Flu,” there’s strong evidence that what was called the “Open Air Method” of treatment yielded better outcomes in patient care and survival. In the American Journal of Public Health the authors write:
Records from an “open-air” hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, suggest that some patients and staff were spared the worst of the outbreak. A combination of fresh air, sunlight, scrupulous standards of hygiene, and reusable face masks appears to have substantially reduced deaths among some patients and infections among medical staff.
Of course here at camp we’re not a hospital, nor are we allowing in anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or been recently exposed to an infected person. But we can extrapolate that if being cared for in the open air shows better recovery rates for those who are ill, imagine its preventative, supplemental, and nourishing effects on those who are well!
Everyone here at camp right now is living proof of that — we are truly in our element (or “the elements”) and feeling the unique combination of vigor and calm promoted by our many outdoor and open air spaces.
Keeping the Outdoors in our Lives
Right now, when people are — and have been — totally cooped up indoors, getting out and getting fresh air is more important that ever. Provided that you’re not in an overcrowded outdoor space, whether at the beach or on a city street, the great outdoors provides an abundance of space with freely circulating air and all-important sunlight.
In fact many institutions and entities are actually looking to the outdoors as an alternative way to hold meetings and events during COVID.
In a recent New York Times roundup on the topic of the outdoors, the authors cite numerous creative ways schools, businesses, governments, churches, and entertainers are making gatherings possible through well-planned outdoor staging with physical distancing built in and masks required. To cite one example from the round-up from a New York Times Editorial,
In Denmark, schools held spring classes on playgrounds, in public parks and even in the stands of the national soccer stadium,” The Times editorial board writes.
That same editorial argued that American schools should open up with outdoor classrooms at the heart of preventative methods during the age of COVID-19.
Because I’m passionate about the benefits of outdoor education, well before COVID hit I had actually been lobbying my son Mason’s public school to build and introduce an outdoor classroom for other supportive reasons — more time outdoors, fresh air, sunshine, less separation from nature, the calming effect of nature on kids, and more. With my son Ellis headed to the same school, I have twice as many reasons to hope for (and push for) this.
And really, when we work for our own kids, we should be working for all kids — all kids need these kinds of supportive and nurturing outdoor classrooms. In the case of racial and economic disparity, too, the gap in access to the outdoors for the poor and people of color is especially alarming and unjust. We have to do more to make outdoor education, experiences, and recreation accessible and fair to all kids.
If in the age of COVID we draw on outdoor spaces for everything from classes to meetings to dining there’s no reason for us to go back to our overly indoors lives after COVID has passed. The opposite should be the case — we should have learned that contemporary separation from nature promotes all kinds of disease through poor indoor air quality and the depressing effects of artificial light and dis-ease (a simple feeling that something’s missing in life).
For tens of thousands of years, in all civilizations people lived much more closely in relationship to the land, water, animals, and elements. We have been the exception for the past century or so and on this front we maybe didn’t get it exactly right. Indoor spaces are great at providing shelter, warmth, and a measure of safety. But we must keep our lives in balance with nature, too.
Al Fresco Dining
Here at camp, even our dining space, the Dining Hall, is a screened-in open air place to eat. During meals it’s so nice to hear the trees rustle, catch the occasional bird call, and simply feel the seamlessness of the indoors meeting the outdoors that such an open air space creates.
While we hold Family Retreats at camp this summer, in the open air Dining Hall family units will use the same table for all their meals while being spaced apart from other family units using their same table for all their meals. This both meets and exceeds West Virginia health requirements and recommendations during the COVID era.
Working and Playing Outdoors
And now it’s time for me to run off to more outdoor meetings and outdoor chores in order to get Family Retreats ready for those who are registered (and for those who still would like to register!). Fortunately, as I’ve said, that work is made so much more pleasant and renewing because it is in the outdoors.
Sure, it sometimes gets hot, and yes, on occasion there’s a storm — but that’s all part of the relationship to nature. We can’t entirely control the outdoors — Mother Nature is an awesome force. But by being outdoors in all kinds of conditions at camp and beyond we build our wills, refill our cups, and restore our souls. Those are pretty good outcomes for simply basking in the majestic, mysterious, mind-blowing world of all of creation.
And I love it! I know you do, too!
So if you want to join us for one of our Family Retreats sessions this summer (with physical distancing and extra sanitation measures built in) please read all about it, e-mail us with your questions or simply register today before our sessions fill up:
Elizabeth Shreckhise, Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls