I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, surrounded by stunning mountains and desert landscapes, and generally spend as much time as I can camping and hiking on my state’s treasured public lands. In recent weeks, though, I’ve been working from home, and many of these public lands and trails have been closed to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus. To break up my days, I’ve begun taking a daily mile-or-so lunch break walk around my neighborhood, and have been delighted to rediscover the natural world in my own backyard. My one-mile loop takes me across a few busy streets, but it also takes me past beautiful flowering bushes, tall pine trees, some spiky cacti, and a variety of lawns from green grass to rock gardens. My walk has been an important reminder that nature is all around us, and often closer to home than we might think.
Over 80% of the United States’ population, including myself, lives in an urban area, and that percentage is due to increase in the years to come.(1) That doesn’t mean, however, that Americans living in urban areas are cut off from nature, or vice versa. 20% of the world’s known bird species have been found in the world’s cities, and many different wildlife species from foxes to deer to raccoons have come to thrive in urban areas.(2,3) In addition, the presence of nature in urban areas brings tons of benefits, with one simple example being street trees in cities. Having a greater number of trees in urban areas helps cool down neighborhoods, filter pollutants and fine particulates, absorb carbon dioxide to mitigate climate change, and regulate water flow to reduce flood risk.(4) In general, access to nature in urban areas has been found to reduce stress, improve mental and physical well-being, and benefit community cohesion and environmental resiliency.(5)
Given all that’s happening right now, I’d almost forgotten that spring was coming, but the nature in my neighborhood serves as a welcome reminder. Over the past week or so, I’ve seen (and smelled) one flowering tree on my walk spring into full bloom for a few days, then begin to drop its flowers, while other trees have more green buds each time I walk by. Connecting with nature every day has done wonders for me.
Environment America has put together, “10 tips for appreciating nature in your neighborhood” and a fun BINGO card for kids to give you some ideas of what to look for on your neighborhood walks so you can take refuge in nature too. I hope you enjoy finding the natural treasures in your own neighborhood!
Are you a poet, essayist, or aspiring wordsmith who loves nature? Submit your own poem or essay to our Greener Together Writing Contest! Submissions are open May 1- May 21, 2020. Winners will have their submission featured on our website and share a one-on-one virtual lunch or activity with one of our experts.