Point of View: Our connection to nature connects us to each other

Appreciation of the natural world that surrounds us can be a unifying element in our community

Did you see the sunrise last Wednesday? Or how about the sunset on Saturday? I did, and based on my Facebook feed, many others did as well. Those sunrises and sunsets are one of the best parts of this time of year. Every time I witness a bookend to the day that paints the world neon pink and orange, I am in awe. The troubles of the day/month/year are momentarily forgotten, and all is beautiful and right in the world. In those moments I also take pause to acknowledge that my experience in that moment is being experienced by everyone else in our community. And I meditate on the fact that there is much more that unites us than divides us.

The land and the sea that provide these moments are a common denominator, bringing many of us to this place we call home. There is something extra special about this place. All of the challenges of living here and of living in this moment in time seem trivial when compared to the power, beauty and magnificence of our backyard.

Early in the pandemic I was struggling. A combination of grief (for all that had been lost) coupled with anxiety (for the unknown and what was to come) was, at times, overwhelming. I shared this feeling of being overwhelmed with my provider at my annual wellness appointment. The prescription I received was “a minimum of 10 minutes a day outside in nature.” That was it. So simple. So powerful. So effective. How fortunate are we that this remedy is literally right outside the door? At any given moment and in most parts of our community, the power and the medicine of the natural world is just a few steps away. Within minutes we can be at the beach or on the trails.

Environmental wellness is just one of the eight dimensions that Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships (MAPP) uses to define a healthy community. These eight dimensions are all interconnected and all equally important. The definition MAPP uses for environmental wellness is “a harmonious and sustainable relationship with immediate surroundings that expands to the natural world.”

Since 2008 when MAPP completed the first Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), “natural beauty” has consistently been ranked as a top community strength. It was third in 2008 and has been the number one community strength in every assessment since (in 2012, 2015, and 2020). Once again, in our most recent assessment, “natural beauty” came in at number one, with nearly double the votes of the second-place strength, “people help each other.”

I often wonder what the world would look like it we all put more energy towards our strengths and less on our weaknesses — if we spent more time focused on the things that unite us and less on the things that divide us. Appreciation of the natural world and the beauty that surrounds us is a unifying element in our community. It is easy to acknowledge this commonality on days when everyone is raving about the sunrise or sunset, but harder at other times. Let’s not forget that we come from the land and we return to the land and for this reason, our connection to nature connects us to each other.

Hannah Gustafson is the coordinator for MAPP (Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships) of the Southern Kenai Peninsula.

MAPP (Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships) is a local health improvement coalition with the vision of a proactive, resilient and innovative community.