If you want to see wild animals, head to a National Park. There is no better way to see, and experience, wildlife than in their natural surroundings, on their terms. When this is done with respect, and proper precautions, in the same way, that we behave when we were invited into a neighbor’s home, it can be a win for the animals, a win for us, and a win for our park systems.
Many of us have been introduced to wildlife via captive programs. Ever since the award-winning documentary Blackfish was released in 2013, the perspective of what it is like for animals living in captivity has been unveiled. An awakening that animals are sentient beings expanded. A wave of shame rolled over many of us as we examined our behavior and thoughts of visiting zoos, swimming with captive dolphins, and big parks like Seaworld, where orcas and other sea life entertain people for food. These animals are deprived of their natural environments where they are free to roam, many over immense miles of space, eat fresh food they catch, hunt or nibble on, breed with whom they want, and live in family systems that have been essential to their existence for centuries.
Barnum and Bailey Circus, known for generations as “The Greatest Show on Earth” sent their iconic elephant performers to a conservation farm in central Florida after years of legal pressure from animal rights organizations and changing sentiment on captivity from the public. The company released a statement in 2021 that they plan to make a comeback of their legendary traveling show, this time without animals.
The number of Animal Sanctuaries is growing, giving captive animals who cannot be returned to the wild a place to retire and live a peaceful existence for their remaining days. The sanctuaries provide the animals with as natural a home as possible. Even huge marine animals are now being offered sanctuaries. Beluga whales, “Little White” and “Little Grey” were flown from their tanks in Shanghai, China to a cold, outdoor water sanctuary cove in Iceland. A similar sanctuary is being prepared by the Whale Sanctuary Project in order to release dolphins, and whales, including orcas, into a natural environment.
Tigers who have been kept captive for various reasons, including pet ownership gone bad, have found a compassionate home in places like the Carolina Tiger Rescue. While their focus is on tigers, they house other animals including a pair of endangered red wolfs recently transferred to them as part of the Red Wolf Survival Species Program.
The rules for public viewing and visitation in these types of institutional animal organizations vary greatly. Some are very strict, not allowing the public access to these animals in order to let them live as natural life as possible or to help them survive as part of restorative species programming. Others have controlled visitation as part of an effort to educate and/or generate funds to maintain the organization. While the ideal situation would be that all animals live in their natural environments, sanctuaries, rescue centers, and select zoo programs are serving an in-between answer to captivity and extinction, as well as humane care to those who need it and cannot be returned to the wild.
Our National Parks are evolving into the perfect place for us humans to coexist with wildlife. With massive amounts of acreage being preserved, animal species are rebounding, with the opportunity to hunt, mate, and live the way nature intended. Take a look at the new Netflix series, Our Great National Parks, hosted by Barack Obama if you are interested in seeing for yourself just how delicate this balance is and the important strides being made globally.
Allowing wildlife to thrive in our National Parks, offers us, humans, an opportunity to see these wondrous creatures living their authentic life. This past winter, for example, I paid a visit to the Everglades National Park in Florida. This park is over one and a half million acres. It includes miles of paths weaving through the grass and reed-filled waters filled with all kinds of life, including alligators, manatees, and other beings that thrive in a subtropical wilderness.
Alligators can be seen lying along the pathways, lounging in the same way that the many tourists can be seen lying on the beach in nearby Miami beach. They can be seen floating in the waterways, the top of their head just bobbing on top of the water. Amazingly, at least to me, all types of birdlife fly and perch around them. Fish swim by. Tourists stroll along near them, but the alligators just hang out, being as still as manikins. Images of the Crocodile Hunter wrestling and fighting off aggressive crocs triggered the same fear that I experienced going into the ocean after watching Jaws as a kid did, and sometimes still does. Perplexed, I asked a park ranger who was meandering by, “Do the alligators ever attack anyone?”
“Not really, he said nonchalantly. I only know of one situation where that happened and it was provoked,” he answered.
Curious, I questioned further, “Was someone trying to wrestle it, or did they get too close trying to take a selfie?” We have all seen the stupidity that happens these days with wild animal encounters.
“No,” he continued walking slowly, “a bike rider fell off a bike and landed on top of one.”
I didn’t press him any further, hoping that the alligator, and the biker, made out okay.
This opportunity to dismiss the myth of the man-eating alligator and to have the opportunity to spend a moment just coexisting with these magnificent reptiles was well worth the price of admission by itself.
National Parks also offer us an opportunity to see and learn about the natural flora, experience the awe of being in the presence of something we humans did nothing to create, and learn new information in one of their many educational offerings.
In a time when climate anxiety is rampant, and the threats to our environment are direr, a visit to a National Park offers hope and an example of how if we do this right, we can coexist with and harmoniously enjoy wildlife.
Have you had seen wildlife in a National Park? Share your experience in the comments below.
The Nature Nurse™, PLLC is honored and grateful to share nurse Megan Culbertson's brave story about how she shifted her life to help serve during the early part of the Pandemic in order to help others, and how nature helped her.
Covid halted life for all of us as we knew it. With the Pandemic surging in various areas around the United States, I opted to quit my steady hospital job and dive into traveling nursing. My husband, who could work remotely, agreed. In four short weeks, we downsized from an 800-square-foot apartment to a 35-foot Recreation Vehicle (RV), which would now be our new home on wheels.
I took my first travel nurse contract in Washington, D.C. We fell in love with the RV life during our six months there. We were spending more time outside- exploring new parks and hiking trails, camping, and sitting by the campfire every night. For two people who love nature, this was our dream!
Nature-based self-care has been associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. Working in Covid Units, I was experiencing high levels of stress and trauma every shift. Living in the RV, with nature right out the front door, became the antidote for my work life. Living in an RV naturally lent itself to spending more time outside, allowing nature to ease the stress, and heal my mind, body, and soul.
More Time Outdoors
When you are living in a tiny space- around 200 square feet to be exact, your outside area becomes an extension of your home. Once we started living tiny, I found myself outside even more. Coffee on the porch in the morning, time around the fire every night, cooking out regularly. Our outdoor space is an extension of our home, and we love it.
Camping & Hiking
One of the great things about living in an RV is the ability to take you home wherever you want to visit. We have been able to visit many national parks, state parks, and campgrounds. If you feel you need to be even closer to nature, it’s easy to lock up the camper and take your tent out for a few days. Research has shown connecting with nature by camping, has even greater healing benefits, including helping us sleep better.
Time Near the Water
Personally, being near water is one of my favorite forms of self-care. No matter what type of water- I find instant serenity. The RV life has allowed us to park near various rivers, creeks, and even the ocean. Kayaking has become a regular form of exercise and stress relief for my husband and me. We learned our dog, Declan also loves the beach. Our little family enjoys regular evening walks on the beach at sunset. Exercise, nature, and the sound of the ocean- a trifecta to reduce the stress of even the worst days.
Easier Traveling with Pets
While owning pets can be one of the best parts of life, it can create a barrier to travel. Travel nursing requires staying in a place for 8 weeks-3 months, longer if you extend your contract. Short-term housing is limited and expensive- adding in finding housing for pets and it becomes even more difficult. The RV allows us to easily travel with our pets, allowing us to travel and get outside more. Even if you are just looking for weekends away, an RV allows you to take a pet-friendly place to stay with you. This can enable you to visit family, parks, and new places easier (and many times for less money!)
While living in an RV is not for everyone, I think so many people could benefit from owning, or renting, a small RV to travel in on weekends and time off. The benefits you receive from more time closer to nature are endless!
Megan Culbertson, BSN, RN is the author of the Peace Love Nursing blog. Visit her blog to learn more about RV living, self-care, nursing, travel nursing, and mental health.
Are you looking for a way to get your weekly exercise requirement in, sleep better, maybe lose a few pounds, and reconnect to yourself or friends? Why not join millions of people around the world on April 6 by going outside for a walk. Even better, why not begin a routine Morning Nature Walk Practice?
The simple act of walking has immense benefits. Walking can help prevent diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and cancer. It helps strengthen our bones, muscles, and our immune system. Low on energy, feeling down, struggling to sleep? Walking can help improve all those conditions as well. Struggling to solve a problem, or looking for a creative spark? Yup, walking can solve those issues as well.
So, what do you need to get started? A pair of comfortable shoes and comfortable clothes is all you need to get started. If you are looking to make an investment in this new healthy lifestyle practice, that you deserve, here are a few suggestions to make your walk more pleasurable.
I am a big fan of Merrell footwear. Not only are they comfortable, but they also last, and are waterproof. So, if you are walking on pavement or on a trail, they will serve your feet well. They are available in women’s and men’s and come in a variety of colors and styles.
Investing in a good fanny pack is a purchase that goes a long way. Put your phone, keys, tissues, some cash, or a credit card in your fanny pack and you are ready to go not just on a walk, but anywhere that you don’t want to have to carry a purse or have your pockets weighing you down.
Unlike walking on a treadmill in a gym, a morning nature walk exposes us to the many pleasant sounds nature offers. Listening to birdsong has been shown to significantly reduce stress. Allowing the serenade of waves gently crashing on the shore or wind whispering through leaves can also ease our weary minds and souls. Sometimes, however, it’s nice to listen to a podcast, an audiobook, or have a chat with a friend while we walk. Having a pair of earbuds on hand can add more variety to our Morning Nature Walk practice to keep us motivated.
There are so many more benefits and enticing ways to make your Morning Nature Walk Practice engaging and a success! We invite you to purchase our Morning Nature Walk Program. Learn more about the science supporting this routine, tips, and resources to empower you or your team to successfully integrate this into your healthy lifestyle, and numerous ways to better connect with nature as you wander.
See you outside!
Disclaimer: True Rest Float Spa provided a free trial therapy session in return for an honest blog review. As with all content on The Nature Nurse™, PLLC platform, this is not medical advice. Always consult with your licensed health professional team before trying a new treatment.
What if we had the opportunity to return to the womb, that warm watery, weightless space? The place where we all started our earth journey, where our every need was met and there was no influence from the outside world, we were just in a pure state of being? Well, now thanks to new technology we have something close to that. It's called floating spas. These spas provide warm, salt-dense water tanks, where we can float in a reduced stimulation environment for a set period of time, allowing us to let the outside world go and completely just be once again.
I have written about these spas, read the research that touts its many benefits, mostly led today by Dr. Justin Feinstein, but I have never tried it myself. I have experienced floating in a pool with foam noodles, and floating tools like Flothetta, which are widely used in Iceland where floating sessions are a common practice. These simple options are relaxing, but not free of outside stimulus.
The science has shown that for most people these floating spas provide deep relief from stress and anxiety. A study conducted in 2018 found that people with anxiety and stress-related disorders had profound reductions in stress as well as reporting significant reductions in muscle tension, pain, depression and negative affect with no major complications. Studies are being expanded to evaluate other ways floatation therapy can be of benefit. Professional athletes find floating helps them establish a winning mindset before competing, as well as quicker muscle recovery after a game.
I was introduced to this therapy at the 2018 Blue Mind Summit focusing on Water is Medicine. The research is compelling. Anecdotally, I have heard from many people- friends, acquaintances, colleagues who have found float spas very relaxing and use the therapy regularly. As with any intervention, there are situations where people may not be appropriate for this or may have adverse effects. For example, I have heard of repressed traumatic memories being awakened during a float, which could be an opportunity to heal those. Post float nightmares for short period of time, potentially repairing something from the past, have also been known to occur. If you try floating, and find that you have these reactions, please reach out to your licensed healthcare professional, and a trauma-informed therapist to help process these memories.
Those with active open lesions in the skin are asked to avoid floating until they are healed as the Epsom salt saturation level will cause pain in these areas. Those who live with epilepsy, kidney disease, low blood pressure, or claustrophobia are discouraged from using this therapy. Other health issues may also be a problem so always consult with your licensed health care professionals before trying a new treatment.
So, what was my experience like? After being welcomed to the float spa, I was asked to sit in a salt-stone walled room to watch a short video on the float experience I was about to try. The video was just a few minutes and covered the basics of what the therapy is, the many benefits, and how to best experience the floating session including various positions one may want to use to achieve the best float. Then I was given a brief tour of the spa including the restrooms, after float lounge and post-float area where one could dry their hair, apply makeup, and return used slippers /towels.
Then onto the actual floatation room, a small, fully-tiled room with the float tank, stand up shower and bench. I was thoroughly briefed on further details on how to float including: shower first, emergency button in the tank, lighting button, the music I selected would play for the first ten minutes, followed by silence, and return 5 minutes before the end of my session. At the end I would get out and shower, get dressed, use the after spa touch up area as needed and then relax in the post float lounge. To ensure my privacy, I was to lock the door when the staff member left. The manager was very thorough in his explanations and open to questions.
Eager to get in and try this, I followed the instructions and entered the tank in the nude as they suggest, and closed the float pod’s doors. The soothing music played while I oriented myself, a blue light allowed me to see and get my bearings, I clumsily made my way into a floating position on my back, the dense salt water making it a bit awkward to move around. Once I felt comfortable, I reached over and turned the light off, while the music continued to play and I waited to see what would happen.
I can imagine that it would be easier, and quicker, to shift into the nirvana-like float state that is mentioned repeatedly when it comes to float therapy the more you go, but the first few minutes for me were a bit restless. The water was holding me up, but it was like trying to move around in a water bed. I tried the hands by my side position for a while, then hands resting above my head, then hands resting on my belly, each position okay for a while, but eventually not feeling right. Then, ever so subtly, I felt what I can best describe as space opening up between my joints. I felt the need to gently stretch and further release the tightness in my muscles, shoulders, neck, ankles, hips. I noticed myself beginning to yawn a bit between breaths. The tense, tight, feeling in my body effortlessly dissolving into the water. As my mind marveled at what my body was experiencing, the music turned off and the silent, stimulus free part of the treatment began.
Dense, profound, complete stillness- I will struggle to put into words what this phase of the float was like. Somethings can only be known by experience. This is one of those situations. The only thing I can come up with, which doesn’t truly compare to the depth of the stimulus reduction experience would be the dull, stillness that happens when you walk outside to a fresh snowfall that seems to stop the world around you.
Time became irrelevant. My breath the only sound I heard. I felt safe, and began to let my body let go more. My thoughts wondered, “Is this what it was like in my mother’s womb?” Then, I’m guessing after twenty minutes or so, in an instant, I felt a major shift, into a new way of being. Just being. No demands, no worries, no “after this I need to…”. I was with my body, which no longer felt like it was wrestling in a pool trying to find a comfortable position, but not feeling like I was in my body. My body now felt more like it was floating in air. My stomach started to grumble a bit. I longed for nothing. I felt at complete ease, peaceful.
I can’t tell you how long that peaceful sense of being lasted, but I was instantly disappointed when the music began to gently play, alerting me that my session was coming to a close. I could have stayed there forever. I now knew what people rave about when it comes to float therapy and why they come back for more.
After climbing out of the tank and connecting with gravity again, I instantly thought, now I need a massage. It was as if I was aware that all of my muscles and joints had been restored to their healthy state and a massage would further secure this by removing any hidden knots and tightness. I showered and made my way to the post-float lounge where a staff member invited me to try the aromatherapy induced oxygen bar to help clear any “float brain” that I may have. For me, this wasn’t necessarily needed, I felt clear and vibrant, but I tried it. I can see how it might be of benefit to some people, but I didn’t notice it changing the calm, clear, joyous state that I was enjoying.
While inhaling oxygen and sipping on water, I had the chance to flip through the journals on the coffee table in the lounge, where people can write their post-float thoughts. It was clearly evident that people enjoyed their experiences at True Rest. It warmed my heart to know that those who need relief the most after trauma found a safe place that provided them peace. One Veteran wrote how floating allowed him to experience peace after battling with many traumas and thoughts of suicide. A mother of four wrote how this was the only place she could truly feel alone and be with herself and how this helped her be a better parent. Another person drew a picture of a blog and described her experience as becoming an amorphous blog that melted into the calm, safe, neutral ether. There were four journals filled with similar testimonials.
So, you may be wondering, will I return? The answer is a big, YES! My husband even commented when I got home, “You look so relaxed. I’m guessing you enjoyed it.” But, don’t take my word. The best way to know if this is a good fit for you is to try it for yourself. I would love to hear what you think of it if you do.
To learn more or to make an appointment to try this yourself, visit True Rest Float Spa.