The Greening of the Psyche

First Green (by StarbuckGuy)

“The Greening of the Psyche” is the title of the latest podcast of All in the Mind, a brain-science podcast presented by Natasha Mitchell, ABC Radio National [Australia]. It probes the question “are human beings naturally drawn to green spaces?” or, in the terminology of biologist E.O. Wilson, “do human beings possess an inner biophilia?” It’s a lovely thought that being creatures that evolved on the Savannah we are naturally drawn to park-like settings, and to other living things, but the science behind the concept, according to the show, has, until recently, been fuzzy.

It’s shows like this that make me a podcast junkie. I listen in and somewhat randomly encounter ideas, terms, and debate about topics I find new, fresh, and stimulating. I rarely use my iPod to listen to music — I’d rather be eavesdropping on interesting conversations. For the essayist-blogger, it’s a stimulus to writing.

The gist of the episode is that there is emerging evidence to support the idea that the human brain responds favourably to green spaces. One of the studies cited was conducted in public housing areas in Chicago where poverty is extreme. Around units where trees and grass were planted, there was a measurable decrease in crime. Not astounding numbers, but 7 per cent, which, as the show said “any mayor would be proud of.” There are other studies and indicators as well, that I won’t dwell on — you can listen to the podcast yourself.

What the episode did was remind me of some of the key reasons why I live in Port Credit: green space, trees, parks, and water. Not to mention that it’s a pleasant little village tucked away within the sprawling metropolis of Mississauga, adjacent to Toronto.

I was raised in open areas. A homestead farm in Minnesota — a small farm in rural Illinois — a small town in Arizona. Although I’ve come to enjoy city life, especially jaunts into Toronto, when I return to Port Credit, where everything is quieter, calmer, and on a smaller scale, I feel relief perhaps akin to what barn swallows feel when they return to their nests under the bridge over the Credit River. Home. Belonging. At one with the river, the harbour, the grass, the sky. Well, maybe not the swooping after mosquitoes part.

Here I have walking trails that go farther than I can walk or cycle. Once winter unlocks its grip and green shoots push up through the ground, the psyche opens up and pushes away the winter doldrums. The walks get longer, the vista more satisfying.

It’s too early to celebrate spring — at least six weeks too early — but the past week with temperatures above freezing has brought promise. Spring is coming. The days are longer. The sun is warmer. Soon nature will be greening and, with it, perhaps, our psyches.

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