Stay connected to nature this winter for the health of it

Friday, Nov. 10, 2017 9:04 PM

The changing clocks and return to seasonal temperatures have changed the tempo in this town.

It’s dark and chilly. That warm bed may seem way more inviting than the cold outside, but many studies show that we are much healthier – physically, mentally and emotionally – when we get outside and connect to nature throughout the entire year.

Norwegians have a term – friluftsliv – that encompasses their appreciation and connection with nature. As one of the “happiest places on Earth,” perhaps Norwegians are onto something. While our activities may change to some extent during the winter months, we still have many opportunities right outside our door to connect to our natural world.

Many of us have relocated here to take advantage of the myriad outdoor activities, distinct four seasons and the abundant sunshine. For those who have lived here their whole lives, it may be hard to imagine endless days – even months – of cloudy days, but they exist. And they’re oppressive. I’ve known many friends who struggled with wintertime blues. There is some mixed research out there on whether or not seasonal affective disorder is a reality, but there’s universal agreement that light plays a critical role in our health and is party to the release of melatonin and other hormones that affect mental health. Fortunately, we can take full advantage of the healthful benefits of the Southwest’s bountiful sunshine.

For many of us in this area, winter harkens a time to simply change up our recreational activities, throwing different equipment onto our all-wheel drive vehicles and adding layers to our attire before heading into the mountains. But that doesn’t describe everyone here. I know not everyone enjoys the slopes or the snowy backcountry, but there is still ample opportunity to get out and capitalize on our sunshine and fresh air.

For most of us, warmth means comfort, so layers play a critical role in our comfort, especially in morning and evenings. Appropriate winter footwear keeps us upright in snow and ice. Dressed appropriately, we have many options in town to connect to the natural world and get a daily dose of sunshine. It can be as simple as parking a bit farther from your workplace so that your walk is longer. Or perhaps, you and a friend can enjoy a walk along the Animas River Trail during lunchtime. If you shop downtown on the weekends, park once and walk the full extent of our picturesque town. Be sure to take time to look at how the natural world adapts during this season – even in our commercial and residential areas.

The time change means most of us now leave work after dark. While our evening hikes or mountain bike rides may be curtailed, nighttime walks through the neighborhood can have benefits. Last week, during our full moon hike, naturalist Jamie Blatter had us focus on meditating in the night, embracing the dark and the cold and fully experiencing it. That shift in mindset can open up endless opportunities to enjoy winter. So I encourage you to get out in the chilly and dark days ahead and keep that connection to our beautiful, natural world – enhance your friluftsliv. So when it is time to cuddle up in a blanket or in front of the fire, you’ll feel better in many ways.

If you need some additional motivation to get out, sign up for our newsletter and stay tuned for our winter activities. We’ll continue our full moon hikes, and we’ll be hosting workshops throughout the winter. In fact, our next full moon hike will take place at 5 p.m. Dec. 3 at Falls Creek, where DNS naturalist Grace Gordon will be talking about how animals in the area cope with the winter months.

Stephanie Weber is executive director of Durango Nature Studies. Email her at