October 4, 2018

KIM | Picnics and Sunsets

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Waterfalls, luscious foliage and beautifully crafted gorges created by Mother Nature herself are all located within our college campus. We’re just a couple steps away from nature thriving in its prime time, flaunting its true colors. I’m not writing to advertise the Fall Creek Gorges or to convince parents and prospective students. Instead, I’m writing as an overthinking and overstressed individual telling you just how great flowing water and tiny dandelions can be.

Over the weekend, I went on a Fall Creek Gorge Trail Hike, motivated to familiarize myself with the overlooked and neglected beauties I never took the time to deeply appreciate. I mean what other university has a waterfall flowing right through campus? Fifteen minutes before the hike, I took a nervous glance at my planner, which resulted in a surge of indecisiveness for the fifth time. I have things to do, assignments to conquer — I don’t have time for this. But, I decided to pay the price later and take advantage of the perfect opportunity to empty my mind.

One of the first things Todd Bittner, the Cornell Botanic Gardens Director of Natural Areas, told us that actually dramatically changed my perspective entirely was that ten minutes was enough to completely change your brain chemistry.

As we sit in those wooden chairs in the library for hours on end, staring at our radiating computer screens and the indecipherable chicken scratch in our notebooks, we deteriorate. We breathe the same air, we force strain on our neurons and we pull on the anchor that keeps us grounded. Under the LED lights and the shadows of our internal and external pressures, we churn our gears exhaustingly because if we stop, we’ll slip and fall.

So, ten minutes is all it takes. The imminent headache, clouded eyes and entrapped stress can all dissipate within minutes of merely standing in the outdoors. In pursuit of this desired state of body and mind, we proceeded with our little adventure down the gorge trails, and I was filled with immense awe and a refreshing sense of emptiness. Surrounded by green and orange, feeling the slight drizzle resting on my cheeks and inhaling the crisp, pure air, I felt suspended in a timeless space. I didn’t think about anything else — I purely relied on my senses to guide my train of thought.

Literally a five-minute walk from West Campus and a minute walk from North, this heavenly realm lies just within our reach. Ithaca has far from nothing — rather, it nurtures a preserved gem that we’re so lucky to have so near and dear. Within this forest, our university’s history is engraved into every rock, tree, pebble, waterfall and stone bench. Through thick and thin, the gorges are living fragments of the past, continuing to represent Cornell as its most notable landmark. Other than the gorges, we also have the perfect picnic spots on the Ag Quad or the glorious Libe Slope. We live atop a beautiful hill within the depths of Mother Nature’s very own gift to us.

I realize that now I must really sound like a tour guide desperately trying to sell the school in its best light. And yes, I’d love to whip out the notorious “gorge-ous” pun with every opportunity there is, but the main point I want to focus on is self-care and promoting strong mentality.

We “live in the middle of nowhere,” but sometimes that’s what we need. Merely living becomes a task — another item on a never-ending to-do list — and our order of priorities can become wrongfully disarranged. We have the perfect opportunity to bask in the sun, jump in the leaves and appreciate the tangible beauty of the world from which we live and breathe. We can easily distance ourselves from the constant rush of everyday life, which slowly eats away at our emotional stability. By breaking free and releasing such dispiriting thoughts, we’ll be doing ourselves a huge favor.

If my spiel isn’t convincing enough, the effects of nature on mental health are further validated by numerous studies that have repeatedly shown a real, inverse correlation between exposure to nature and prevalence of mental disorders, such as depression and schizophrenia. According to a Stanford study that was conducted in 2015, participants who spent 90 minutes in a natural area had a significantly lower risk of depression than participants who spent 90 minutes in an urban setting. Nature’s more than a “waste of time” or “just a bunch of trees”.

Our personal counselor Mother Nature is available 24-7 without needing an appointment. It truly is a soul-cleansing experience, whether it be sticking your face out the window or watching the sun set on another day from outside the library entrance. The long to-do list won’t finish itself, but with a new, invigorating sense of willpower and calm jubilance, you’ll just become limitless.

Alexia Kim is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. Who, What, When, Why? runs every other Friday this semester. She can be reached at [email protected].