Land & Mind: Treading Lightly

Litter collected during a family outing

By Sarah Bateman, Utah Recycling Alliance

Let’s be honest – Zero Waste has taken a hit during the pandemic. Though it can be discouraging to see momentum stall, let’s take a beat, and head outside. The great outdoors, after all, is the source of inspiration for the work that we’re doing anyway.

Have you found yourself turning to the outdoors a little more than usual this year? Or maybe you keep telling yourself that you “should” spend more time outdoors. . . but you haven’t really done it much. Because you know. You know that it’s good for you. Evidence of “Nature Therapy” is not only anecdotal, but scientific. Studies conducted around the globe have shown the physical and mental health benefits of being in a forest or listening to a babbling brook or spotting local birds or digging in a garden.

During the height of the quarantine, when we all grew weary of our same 4 walls and had finished the internet, we, as a people, turned to the outdoors to save our sanity. [Paved trail use in Utah County 2019 vs 2020]

For our family, Provo Canyon is an easy go-to; we’ve found several favorite spots that we turn to when needing to detach a bit from daily stressors.

Whenever we go out we sharpen our observation skills – study the details of insects, look at the cool patterns beetles have eaten into tree trunks, or try to spot which tree the chirping chipmunk is in.

And whenever we go out, we always feel better.

On one of our Provo Canyon rambles we were joined by some visiting younger cousins who are thoroughly at home in the outdoors. We chose a spot that is great for make-believe and exploration – balancing on fallen trees, sword-fighting with broken branches or ducking under fairy-tunnels of wild vegetation.

While walking along the stream, we came to a partial-dam of several criss-crossed fallen logs. We climbed up and balanced our way to the other side. I was the last to cross but stopped short when I saw my oldest crouched down among a mass of plant debris on the bank of the stream, gathering something. I reached the bank and saw the beginnings of his collection: plastic and Styrofoam cups, plastic bags and water bottles, a glass bottle and some empty aluminum cans.

I was simultaneously pleased and disappointed.

You know what we didn’t find, though? Reusable, durable goods. 

Whether those single-use, “disposable” items were intentionally littered or accidentally blew away in the wind, they ended up polluting the stream . . . and interrupting the healing experience of being in the outdoors.

If you have chosen reusable, durable goods, instead, you’ve discovered that 1) they’re more substantial and less likely to blow away, and 2) their durability means there’s plenty of life left in them and you would never think of just tossing them. (Not to mention saving money in the long-run by going reusable.)

Choosing reusables actually reframes your mindset. It shifts your relationship with stuff and with your surroundings, especially those wild places we love so much here in Utah. Instead of being users of the land, we become guardians of the land.

Whether you are gearing your children up for “back-to-school” (whatever that looks like this year!) or you are ready to recommit yourself to your work, craft, or passion, make spending time in wilder places a regular part of your routine. Not only does science say it will sharpen cognitive functions and increase creativity and focus, but it will lower cortisol levels (stress hormones), reduce blood pressure, and boost your mood.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste. And waste is a terrible thing to have to mind.

Heal the land. Heal the mind.

And breathe

Provo Canyon in summertime