Three Easy Ways to Live Longer, Happier

By Sitting, Listening, Reading, and Conversing
Part I: # 1 – 3

1. Listen to Birds

In a new study, four German scientists demonstrated that listening to bird song reduces depression, anxiety, and paranoia (Stobbe et al. 2022). It is yet another confirmation that being in Nature provides positive psychological and physiological health benefits.

Reporting on the benefits of Nature is all the rage these days. The Washington Post discussed the German study plus another one last week. The research topic is exploding.

During a wine and cheese soiree at fellow Chaparralians Gregg and Maril Parker’s place in Julian last month, prior to the Volcan Mountain Symposium, we had a wonderful conversation with Richard Louv, the man who energized the children in Nature movement with his influential book, Last Child in the Woods. Over dishes of snacks and rapidly emptying bottles, we discussed some of the new research. When he first started looking into the subject more than 20 years ago, Louv said there were barely a dozen or so papers about the positive impact of being outdoors in Nature. Now, there’s more than 1,500. Maybe Nature is finally having its Renaissance.

Participating in that Renaissance is easy. Find a relaxing space in Nature, preferably between two different habitats, sit down and listen. If you’re lucky enough to have a yard, create your own space. Let wildness emerge. We’ve done this in our own yard à la Kevin Costner (If you build it, he will come); we ripped out the lawn three years ago and planted chaparral. It’s eight feet tall now in some places. There’s a patch in the middle that’s impenetrable. It could become prime bobcat territory; we’re hoping it will be adopted by one of the three kittens born in our neighborhood this year.

Every morning we have coffee on the bird deck, watching Spotted Towhees scamper about searching for the seed we scatter (a western regional blend of seed plus an extra gourmet fruit and nut mix for the Nuthatches), a pair Western Blue Birds raising their family (our next-door neighbor Dave built the nest box for us), and House Finches tussling with Mourning Doves on the feeder platform (we’ve named the pushiest Dove, Boudicca).

Bring your binoculars and listen. Feel the relaxation course through your body. The facts are in. You’ll live happier and longer.

Build it and they will come. Some of our new friends: a Spotted Towhee (ooooo-weeeeee), a Western Blue Bird on the nest box, and a House Finch dancing atop the feeding platform.

2. Building Your Intergenerational Self: Embrace stories from your people’s past, your history, your foundation

Lots of people roam the streets of Cambridge, England; any town, really. But oh, how much more there is than the snapshot images and must-see sights. Read, listen, and learn before you go. The places will speak to you as they did to us during our excursions to England.

As I placed my feet onto the dark, gray stone steps ascending a small corridor into a building where Isaac Newton went to think, to write, to talk, my mind imagined him there, worrying about the plague, thinking in numbers, and creating the mathematical language for the gravitational constant, allowing him to articulate the force that shapes the universe. I reached down and touched the worn curves in stone, curves Newton’s feet had contributed. I gently repeated his passage, one step at a time, talking with him along the way.

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Huell Howser – Choosing to See the Joy

The Light of California

There was no mistaking who he was that morning of June 13, 2005, when I turned my car into the Sweetwater River overlook parking lot off Interstate 8 in the wilds of eastern San Diego County.

He had on his signature, California-style tropical shirt and sunglasses along with that classic smile that lit up the entire landscape. He grabbed my hand with his US Marine grip, looked me in the eyes, and greeted me with his unforgettable Tennessee welcome. “Good mornin’!”

Huell Howser.

And so began the filming of the chaparral episode for his popular public television show, California’s Green. I’d been bugging him to do it for months.

Huell exemplified the joy of living, the magic of life, and the beauty of California in ways that will never be matched. His optimism and honest curiosity brought out the best in people, no matter who they were. His one and only music video with his friends at the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles is a testament to the infectious joy he offered so freely.

During the chaparral shoot, we visited four different locations: the Sweetwater River overlook, a stunning red shanks chaparral stand near the Sunrise Highway, a chaparral stand on the outskirts of Pine Valley, old-growth chaparral on Guatay Mountain, and chaparral recovering from the 2003 Cedar Fire in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.

Each time Huell would tell Cameron his camera man to roll it, he knew exactly what he wanted to ask, constructing the entire shot in-process. Within a few minutes, Huell would declare, “That’s enough,” and we’d move on to the next location. We never re-shot a scene. When each clip is perfect, there’s no need to complicate the process with more film to edit.

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The Big Melt is Coming! Hell Fire Inevitable!

Embracing Wisdom Over Gossip

The drum beat of doom has been pounding out the same headline in the Los Angeles Times for a month now: Beware the Big Melt! The dire warning appeared April 3, April 5, April 11, April 25, April 26, May 3. And again this morning (May 8). Same sensationalism, same embellishment, same catastrophizing.

Much of the massive Sierra Nevada snowpack remains,
keeping flood risk high as temperatures rise

With an added twist at the bottom of the May 3 column…

The wet winter will only delay the inevitable, officials say, as fuels across the
state begin to dry out and become susceptible to ignition.

“Don’t let the rain and the snow fool you,” the expert said. And all that green Nature? It’s just fuel. Armageddon is coming; walls of water and fires from hell.

We shall see.

Meanwhile, glancing at the rest of the paper revealed more slamming of adjectives against nouns to trigger reader fear: danger in LA streets, a disunited kingdom, three stabbings spark fears, etc., etc.

And next year if the drought returns? A new series:

Tiny Snowpack Threatens Water Supply
Fire Danger Increases as Drought Dries Fuels.

Chart: The Snowpack. We’ve been here before, and somehow survived. As with annual rainfall and wildfire in California, the annual snowpack has one pattern – wildly unpredictable with severe swings in either direction, a historical fact the news-gossip media would like you to forget. See date-referenced photos below.

We’ve had prior contact with the Big Melt journalist a couple years ago. She thought she’d found her gotcha headline after the 2021 Alisal Fire in Santa Barbara County – Fuel Break Stopped by Environmentalists Could Have Helped. When we explained the fire likely started in the weeds along the road where the fire break had been planned, then proceeded downhill away from the road and toward the coast, the tone of the conversation changed. As we tried to explain this could be an excellent opportunity to expose how useless backcountry habitat clearance projects really are, the discussion ended. No conflict, no story. No headline.

But terrifying readers about melting snow, and thriving, green habitat? Now that’s the ticket!

The LA Times used to be better.

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