This July 4th weekend is a great time to get out into Nature. Especially after enduring such a long period of lockdowns (which persisted longer in some parts of the country than others)!
Of course, spending time outdoors in Nature has always been a quintessential part of the American tradition of declaring independence…
Early Americans lived independently off the land
For the first part of early American history, settlers huddled along the coastline, living off the bounty of the sea, and trading on the sea.
Then, as the seaside ports grew and got crowded, colonists began to clear farm plots to grow food inland. In many early American settlements, they also kept livestock in a green space at the center of town, called the “commons” or “the green,” in order to protect them.
As time went on, bigger farming communities started popping up, including Salem Village (now called Danvers) just outside of Salem, MA, and Beverly Farms, just inland from the port of Beverly, MA (also the birthplace of the U.S. Navy).
Later, wealthy residents of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia set up summer cottages in these cooler, pleasant locales near the sea. (For example, Presidents Cleveland, Taft, and Coolidge enjoyed spending summers along the coast at places like these.)
Of course, settlers continued to push West across the “American frontier” to carve out a little piece of land for themselves and their families. And claiming these open spaces gave small landholders the freedom to live independently off the land…without government interference or reliance on others. (Quite a distinction from what many had experienced in Europe.)
From the beginning, Thomas Jefferson adamantly advocated for the founding of America on agrarian ideals.
In fact, he believed the young nation’s only path toward true health, happiness, and prosperity was to live off the land as part of an “agrarian democracy.” And he warned that creating an industrialized society of elites based around urban centers (which 19th-century politicians called a “mobocracy”) would rob the American people of the independence they experienced living on the land.
Yet, the 1890s witnessed the “closing” of the American frontier, as described by historian Frederick Jackson Turner. And at that point forward, more and more people began leaving the farms and rural areas to relocate to dense, dank, dirty, and disease-filled urban areas.
As cities expanded, so did our need to return to Nature
After living and working in unhealthy urban areas, people soon found they were yearning to get back to the wilderness. They went to wilderness resorts for the “Nature Cure” in natural environments (newly accessible by the railroads)—such as Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania (a favorite of President James Buchanan) and Saratoga Springs, New York. (George Washington and Jefferson had also recommended going out to natural springs, such as Berkeley Springs—which was then in Virginia.)
Philadelphia neurologist (and novelist) S. Weir Mitchell (1829 – 1914) advocated the “Rest Cure” and the “West Cure” to experience unspoiled Nature. Indeed, President Theodore Roosevelt went out West to overcome lung problems and other health issues. And from 1883 to 1884, he set up residence in a cabin in the Badlands of the Dakota Territory. He came back East a “new man,” in more ways than one. (A generation later, Teddy’s cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, experienced something of the same benefits at Warm Springs, Georgia, when recuperating from adult polio.)
As I often report, spending time in Nature also encourages and facilitates healthy physical activity. In fact, as Erwan Le Corre (the modern-day “Tarzan”) contends, walking, hiking, climbing, and moving over natural terrain is much better for you than pounding away on a treadmill, track, or other man-made surfaces. Therefore, it’s much better for longevity, too.
Of course, spending time in Nature (in “green or blue spaces”) also benefits your mental health. In fact, studies show simply planting more trees on urban streets improves the mental (and physical) health of people living in the neighborhood.
So, this July 4th weekend, carve out some time to get back to Nature. Go fishing in a stream or lake, take a walk in the woods, or go swimming at a favorite seaside spot. I truly believe spending more time in Nature and living off the land together hold the keys to helping Americans reclaim their health and independence…as Jefferson and others suggested long ago.
P.S. You can learn more about the benefits of spending time in Nature in the June 2019 issue of my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures (“Your warm-weather guide for safe and effective outdoor exercise”). Subscribers have access to this report and all of my past content in the archives. So, if you haven’t already, sign up today. Click here now!