Pictured above: Detail of The Shoals Area; map via AllTrails
In her book, First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Journey Through Anxiety, Sarah Wilson explains how walking helps calm her anxiety and balances the nervous system. In the chapter titled “Slow…” her declaration, “I’m also a mad hiker,” appeals to my heart and soul. Because, while I don’t consider myself a “mad hiker,” I do consider myself someone who loves, and needs to “get out in the woods.” This past weekend, while hiking with a good friend, Wilson’s book, anxiety, why hiking is medicine, and this passage below (beginning on page 90) were lively topics of conversation.
“Friedrich Nietzsche and Charles Darwin did the same. They both hiked every single day, until old age. Both had anxiety. Both credit walking with taming their heads enough to be able to sort problems and bring their inspired ideas to fruition. ‘Only thoughts reached by walking have value,’ wrote Nietzsche.
Why does hiking work?
Hiking gets us into nature…and multiple studies show that folk who live in green spaces have lower rates of mental health issues. It’s been suggested that getting away from city freneticness allows the prefrontal cortex to take a break.
Accordingly, stress hormones, heart rate and other markers back off. Japanese scientists call the phenomenon Shinrin-yoku, or ‘forest bathing.’ Their recent studies suggest the benefits come from breathing in ‘aromas from the trees’ known as phytoncides, an array of natural aerosols that trees give off for pest control.
One study found that salivary cortisol levels in people who gazed on forest scenery for twenty minutes were 13.4 percent lower than those who did the same in urban settings. Hiking connects us to ourselves. A University of Michigan study found that because our senses evolved in nature, by getting back to it we connect more honestly with our sensory reactions.”
I was born and have lived with anxiety for over six decades. One of my earliest memories is of “reading the room” to assess what needed to be smoothed, managed, fixed, or ordered to prevent some unknown horror or disaster. I’ve spent the rest of my life refining this talent—sometimes a beautiful gift, sometimes an anxiety-inducing bomb to the nervous system.
As a recovering anxious person, I strive to get out in the woods as much as possible. This year, I’ve committed to creating more time for phytoncides—and constantly looking for ways to reduce adrenaline and cortisol. Hiking with my friend last weekend, in beautiful Wildwood Park, was part of the weekend commitment to self care that helps to keep me (mostly) calm and sane.
Talking with another friend about the weekend outing, she quizzed me on all the details of my self care weekend in the wood and back at home. Below is my response to her (with links and some additional commentary added). Not long ago, the same friend joked—after receiving a rather long text chain about my take on the best Negroni—that I might “need to create a spreadsheet.” I guess you can get a girl out into the woods, but she will still be reading the room (and making a list).
The List: Weekend Self Care and Hiking
Believe it or not, I headed out and hiked in the Ravenna Dress (also love her sister, the Caterina) and my Oversized Waffle Sweatshirt from our Organic Core Essentials Collection. This is a testament to the wearability and durability of our cotton garments. I wear these core essentials for all things in life. In the last week, I’ve worn these essentials out to dinner with my son and granddaughter, on the aforementioned hike, to a meeting at The Factory, the grocery store, while working in my flowerbeds and yard, on a coffee date, and everywhere in between. Ravenna: she is strong—and a bit flirty.
I had an awful toe break a few years ago that changed my entire gait, foot shape, and, honestly, my life. Gait Happens made me rethink how I walk and the shoes I wear. In a long-ago post, they recommended Altra shoes—for the wide toe box, among other great characteristics. I bought a pair of Altras during toe recovery and never looked back. I wear some version of these shoes daily to work, play, walk, travel, and hike.
I’ve come to prefer a bit of cushion for my tired feet, legs, and bones, and my favorite pair are currently the Mont Blanc in Maroon Bells. The ability to micro fit the shoe is a game changer.
I also have the Lone Peak, All-Weather, for terrains that call for a hiking boot.
(I believe my next hiking boot may be the Olympus 5 Hike Mid GTX.)
Add The Finley Belt Bag from Elidia, slung crossbody.
As I left the house this weekend, I grabbed my Reclaimed Down Vest (see the large pockets)—perfect for a bottle of water, tissues, and the AllTrails map on my phone. Once it warmed up, I draped the vest over the belt of my Finley bag.
After the hike, home to a shower, my favorite Sarong, a clean Waffle Sweatshirt, and Vintner’s Daughter Active Treatment Essence and Active Botanical Serum. (Pro tip: Add the Botaniko Charcoal Deodorant.)
All of this followed by a dinner of grilled vegetables with yogurt sauce, loosely following the recipe on page 65 of the Via Carota cookbook (no boiling or sugar in my version), and a re-reading of First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Journey Through Anxiety.
A note on First, We Make the Beast Beautiful:
I stumbled upon this book in the summer of 2018 while browsing Sundog Books in Florida. As a visual person, and lover of books as material culture, I was first taken by the cover design, illustration, and the color-coordinated Day-Glo endpapers. Following this first impression, I randomly opened the book and landed squarely in the middle of the chapter about panic attacks (see page 158)—something I’ve struggled with my entire life. I promptly walked to the front desk and purchased the book. I’ve subsequently returned to the book often—underlining passages, sharing with friends, and purchasing the audio version as well.
I recently listened to this great interview of Dacher Keltner with Krista Tippett. In this work, you’ll hear similar findings to those Sarah Wilson writes about in her book. Nature, awe, and connection matter. Keltner’s book Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life is really interesting. Rollo May’s books The Courage to Create and The Meaning of Anxiety are also great reads.
A few final notes:
Wildwood Park is close to my home in downtown Florence. Thanks to a committed group of neighbors and the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area, this green space is a refuge of walking, hiking, and biking trails—with canoe and kayak access to Cypress Creek. We are extremely privileged and lucky to be surrounded by numerous waterways and green spaces. In the near future, the Singing River Trail will connect greenways all across our city, county, and region.
Friend, and inspiring human, Carrie Barske Crawford, has been writing posts for the Journal about all the wonderful things to see and do in and around The Shoals. Check out her posts, “Hiking and Bankhead National Forest” and “Hidden Spaces” on the Journal. And explore the upcoming events calendar to plan an adventure in The Shoals and beyond.
Numerous initiatives and groups operate guided hikes in various locations across The Shoals and the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area. Wild Alabama offers many programs in Bankhead National Forest. The League of Outdoor Women — which is a program of the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area-–has monthly events for women and can often be found on the trails of Bankhead. Other hiking opportunities in the forest are hosted by Girls Who Hike Alabama.
Know that the items included in this post are my suggestions. They include things I love and use every day. Neither Alabama Chanin, The School of Making, nor I receive payments for the recommendations we’ve linked to here. Of course, if you choose to purchase one of the items we make or carry, we’re honored and thank you.
The bottom line is that a friend asked, and I made a list. If you have other suggestions for things you love, or we should check out, please post them in the comments below. If you don’t agree with our selections, we also invite you to comment below; however, as a person born into this world with anxiety, I’m asking that you please use inside voices.
March 1, 2023