The camping cure
Living outside changes you. When environmental illness left me too sick to stay in my high-rise, I turned to nature to heal
by Jill Neimark
But living outside changes you. You slowly unspool from civilisation, and the more you embed yourself in nature, the deeper the alchemy. Most of us sense this; it might be why camping, hiking and wilderness adventures seem to be an ever-greater obsession…
A few weeks later, we drove into 200,000 acres of national forest in North Florida. The drive from the forest edge to the campground itself takes about half an hour, through the choiring strings of gaunt loblolly pines rising like endless throngs of organ pipes reaching for the light. The hidden campground, on a spring-fed lake, is a moist and lush wonderland festooned with live oaks, pines and Spanish mosses. One lone cypress grows on a spit of land in the lake. Everybody loves it for its anomalous, gnarled, stubborn insistence on living where it unfortunately landed.
We chose the loop with water and electric. There, fitful insomnia gave way to deep sleep. (Yes, research from the University of Colorado confirms this effect; camping for one week, away from electric light, resets even the most stalwart night owl’s circadian rhythms.) My constant, aching muscle tension eased because, I guessed, I was nearly off grid, far from electrosmog. I ate fish an hour after it was caught from that pristine lake, and discovered that my body liked pure food. In short, the frisson of reactivity I had lived with for years was gone. I gazed up at a cerulean sky – a blue so blue it seemed an invisible hand had peeled wax paper off the stratosphere. I taunted the crazed mosquitoes banging against the mesh of my tent. I got stronger. We took long constitutionals, my old-fashioned choice of word for walks. A sunny day was laundry day: I heated water in a Le Creuset pot and washed my clothes by hand, hanging them to dry on a nylon line strung between trees. I loved to bury my face in their fresh scent.
Most striking, however, was my shift in mood. Rumination and anxiety seemed to melt away. And it was not simply the cliché of being in nature, for all nature was not equal. Over the next few years of frequent camping, I found I could always correlate clean air with clarity of mind and mood, as if my body was a pollution-sensing device calibrated to detect tiny shifts.