Recreation Wellness

Nature & Your Health

Nature and Health

Max Patch, NC. Photo by Sarah Jones Decker

Compleat Naturalist: Vitamin N is for Nature!

By Laura and Hal Mahan

For many of us it begins when we are youngsters. The connection to a love of the wild outdoors becomes something that is ingrained in our spirits. Perhaps it is due to a very specific occurrence on a specific day at a specific location. This memory never leaves us. Nature—with a capital N!

For Laura it happened on a spring bird watching trip on a cold April morning in northern Ohio. Her mother took her on these outings as a ritual of spring. Laura usually did not particularly enjoy them, as it was too early, too cold, and too difficult to see through her grandfather’s old binoculars. But one day, finally, Laura saw something and the spark ignited. There was a Rose-breasted Grosbeak in clear glorious view. From that moment on, Nature became an all-encompassing passion.

For Hal it happened when he was ten years old and, with a friend, shared monarch butterfly caterpillars that were fascinating as the creatures became ever more beautiful with each stage of metamorphosis.

Perhaps, with some people, Vitamin N does not have such a sudden or forceful effect. It might show its influence gradually, or at a later age. No matter. Recent studies have determined it to be a positive influence on human health.

This connection to Nature can manifest in all manner of ways. Some people follow it academically and scientifically, becoming experts in a particular field—but always keeping that early love of Nature at the root of their interest. Some folks keep it simple, enjoying Nature by watching and observing and enjoying the solitude and beauty that it offers, without learning any names of birds, plants, butterflies or rocks. Vitamin N is good in any form!

Another beneficial component of Vitamin N is that it is an excellent way to practice mindfulness, or “being in the moment.” Take a quiet walk in Nature and you cannot help but focusing on the here and Now. Feel the breeze. Watch a bird intently to discover the details of its markings. Look at the small, intricate parts of a wildflower up close with a hand magnifier. Realize that when you are doing these things, all your other cares of daily life melt away from your thoughts.

There is another aspect to Vitamin N that we would like to call “mindfulness of past experiences.” Some of us have well-used field guides that have seen many travels. Have you ever opened your wildflower guide to find a dried sprig of a plant from a past field trip? Your memories of that trip will come rushing back. Where were you? Who were you with? What was the weather like? The forest was beautiful that day and you were discovering and learning new things. It is a different kind of mindfulness, the ability of the human brain to recall these sensory details of the past.

Journalist Richard Louv has offered specific ways to get your Vitamin N in his book, Vitamin N: 500 Ways to Enrich the Health & Happiness of Your Family & Community. In it he gives specific, easy-to-do activities that can make your life more “Nature-rich.” Quoting from the back cover, “It is a dose of pure inspiration, reminding us that looking up at the stars or taking a walk in the woods is as exhilarating as it is essential, at any age.”

So, go get some Vitamin N! Find it in your own personal way. The Southern Appalachians are a fabulous Nature-rich place to make that connection!

Laura and Hal Mahan are owners of The Compleat Naturalist, located at 2 Brook Street in the Historic Biltmore Village. To learn more, visit or call 828.274.5430.

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