The 30x30 Nature Challenge is getting Canadians outside every day.

 Peak of Stawamus Chief. Photo from Marina Steffensen.

Peak of Stawamus Chief. Photo from Marina Steffensen.

 It had been a tough few months; a semester that came with more than its share of challenges. I came out of winter disheartened, stressed, hardened, and feeling a little bit depressed. By Easter, I had decided that I had to find a way out of this ever-growing funk. I wanted to re-connect with my surroundings, and myself, and enjoy Vancouver, the city I have been waiting to move back to since I left 18 years ago. Then, at the beginning of May, my friend Rebecca told me of a project she was registered to participate in. Like me, she had a stressful year and wanted to get back touch with nature. “I really love being in nature, and I find it balances me out…I do feel like I derive a spiritual sense of connectedness in nature”, Rebecca told me. The project she encouraged me to join was the David Suzuki Foundation’s 30 x 30 challenge, an “annual intervention aimed to increase Canadian’s contact with the natural environment, [by having] volunteers pledge to spend a minimum of 30 mins outdoors in contact with nature, for 30 days during the month of May.”

 Aryne Sheppard, 30x30 project lead with the David Suzuki Foundation, noted that “people spend very little time in nature... adding an extra half an hour, even though it may sound easy, is sometimes a challenge. Even spending 20-30 mins is enough to have measurable benefits… it is good for well-being and good for the environment.”

In collaboration with Dr. Elizabeth Nisbet, a psychologist at Trent University, the David Suzuki Foundation developed annual report in 2013 based on a pre- and post-challenge participant survey, to understand how nature connection impacts happiness, well-being, and environmental behaviour. In 2013, the average weekly hours spent outside almost doubled, while participants experienced a greater desire to spend time in nature by the end of the month. As the report stated, “Human well-being and ecological sustainability are complementary, not competing goals and our connection with nature offers a potential ‘happy path to sustainability’”.

There is a quote from Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl that says, “the best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be…I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles”. Being a BC resident, I have the privilege of being surrounded by mountains, forests, and an ocean. These surroundings provided me with an opportunity to achieve happiness by having that connection with nature, and overcome the ‘cabin fever’ I had been experiencing the last five months. So, that is how I spent the month of May; I pledged to spend at least 30 mins a day outdoors, immersed in the nature that surrounds me, and rejuvenate my emotional and physical well-being.

 Barnet Marine Park. Photo from Marina Steffensen.

Barnet Marine Park. Photo from Marina Steffensen.

Some of the amazing experiences I participated in includes hiking to the peak of the Stawamus Chief, exploring the trails near my campus at Simon Fraser University on Burnaby Mountain, visiting my hometown on the Sunshine Coast I haven’t seen in 18 years, and spending time sitting, thinking and dreaming (something I haven’t done in a very long time). As a nature photographer, this challenge even provided an outlet to regroup through one of my biggest passions.

On June 2nd, Rebecca and I caught up with each other sitting beneath a cherry blossom on Simon Fraser University’s campus and discussed the past month. “It is really easy to forget that we are part of nature when we don’t go outside”, says Rebecca, “Nature is closer than you think”. It is true - I had envisioned living in Vancouver for most of my life, but I hadn’t had the chance to appreciate what was surrounding me. Although I wasn't always successful in getting outside for 30 minutes every day, my increased time away from my computer and out of my basement apartment was an amazing accomplishment. Even Rebecca, to whom being outdoors comes more naturally, had trouble doing 30 mins everyday. “I know going out in nature is good for me and it is something I enjoy and that I love and that’s why I am studying fish in creeks and why I am interested in ecology. But I am busy and sometimes forget. I would get to the end of the day and realize I hadn’t gone outside today... no wonder I’m feeling so frantic!”

Aryne Sheppard says that, “in our culture, we tend to be perfectionists. We think if we miss one day, we’ve failed… the point is to spend more time in nature, so even if you get out once a week, that’s an improvement and that will have a large benefit. It's important to not give up, even if you had a busy week and were not able to go outside everyday.”

The biggest thing I have noticed is how much happier I am everyday; I have let the stress melt away like the snow. It was eye-opening to recognize how restless I would get if I do not take  time outside every day. This recognition allows me to reflect and escape, even for only 30 mins, from the stress of the day. This challenge is something I intend to continue with this summer, once school starts up again, and eventually, in my future work setting.

For those of you who want to take on a challenge like this, there are 2 big things to remember: 1) As Rebecca noted, nature is closer than you think. “People say I don’t have half and hour in my day (myself included!), but you need to eat lunch, go eat outside, or find creative ways to explore your surroundings." 2) Aryne Sheppard suggests to keep it simple. “Start exploring close to home, even if it is in your backyard. If you live in an apartment, start putting plants on your balcony. At work, take your coffee breaks or creative meetings outside. Move around and go for a walk - you can have a conversation just as easily outside as you can inside”.

I had the honour to be one of over 15,000 individuals who registered and took part in this event, along with over 600 schools and approximately 500 work places. I encourage all of you who are feeling disconnected, or those that have trouble getting outdoors, or even those of you who are very outdoorsy naturally to take on this challenge with me, and ensure that we do not lose out on some amazing experiences.  

 Davis Bay, British Columbia .  Photo from Marina Steffensen.

Davis Bay, British ColumbiaPhoto from Marina Steffensen.