Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park. Courtesy of Demetrios Mammas.

Worries and fears drift away as I lay on the South Carolina beach, comforted by the calming warmth of the summer’s sun. Wisps of sand brushed across my face this past spring break, obscuring a desert landscape dotted with Joshua trees and eclectic rock formations. My inner Star Wars nerd jumped for joy during a visit to San Francisco with my uncles to survey the gigantic redwoods that blotted out the sun and inspired the home of the Ewoks.

My journey in learning to cherish the natural world began at a young age, inspired by my family’s spirit of volunteerism and an even deeper primordial sense of wanderlust. Whether through helping to clean up a local park or venturing out into a new national park’s vast and gorgeous reaches, I’ve treasured every exposure to the natural world’s wonders throughout my life. Having experienced an awakening in these moments, flourishing amid the modern age’s engulfing crises necessitates exposure and appreciation of the natural world. 

I vividly remember the times when my mom and grandfather dragged me away from my long hours of GameCube in the dark out into the bright South Florida outdoors. In hopes of instilling in me the spirits of outdoorsmanship and volunteerism, they signed me up again and again to help rehabilitate parks and decrepit nature preserves overrun with rubbish. Further, they also strove to enrich my mind through classes explaining the Everglades ecosystem. At the time, I was decidedly not a fan. I thought that the whole ordeal was fruitless. I wasn’t a sporty person and I despised the itty bitty bugs crawling in the earth below. I decided that I wasn’t meant for the outdoors and crept away from the sun’s scorching heat into the sanctuary of my air-conditioned house.

But after moving to Atlanta, my environment became more enclosed by concrete and tar than it ever had in Florida. I quickly discovered amid my struggles with mental health that I was foolish to disdain the bliss of the outdoors. I relished escaping from my day-to-day worries under the renowned tree canopy sprinkled across the city’s skylines and taking in rosy sunsets on walks through Chastain and Piedmont Parks. For me, there’s something cathartic about simply existing in nature, free from the hubbub of city life. I prize my time in nature above nearly all else, as it affords me an escape from the world’s complexities. Whether I am feeling fear of missing out from social media or need to remind myself to appreciate life, I always find that a spontaneous venture into nature is a sort of sanctuary for me.  

Flourishing in nature takes upon various forms akin to the shifting seasons. One includes my moments with friends, listening to the chirping birds in the trees and chatting over our days. As we saunter and joke around, our worries and concerns dissipate. Other moments I value within nature are the solitary times when I collect my inner thoughts while meditating, reading or simply taking in my surroundings. After my excursions into nature, I usually find myself relaxed, reinspired and rebooted to tackle life’s challenges. For me, these elements underscore my journey in flourishing within nature, in part for instilling wanderlust and tranquility; yet, these excursions also push a deeper sensation tied to my flourishing closer to the surface. 

The sense I have while in nature is unutterable yet familiar, an almost indescribable sensation of beauty. It’s the way nature finds a way of assuaging any ills within you through the chittering of wayward animals, the odd breeze dashing your hair all over your face and the way the sun breaks through the leaves of a tree. The comforts of nature provoke within me an awakening, a profound love of the natural world and all its facets. That’s why I strive to marvel at nature’s beauty on all my breaks and during all my free time. Whether that be advocating to go to out-of-the-way natural parks or taking a leisurely voyage in a kayak around Stone Mountain, I have always yearned to immerse myself in the outdoors. Even trekking through Lullwater with a friend on a breezy spring afternoon soothes my mind after a stressful class and becomes a nice break from life’s tribulations. Spending time within the sanctity of nature’s beauty lets me stop, recharge and sally forth to flourish amid the world’s troubles.

In our ever globalized and modern world, crises exist around every corner and are complicated by an infatuation with technology. The problems are vast, including those engulfing the world’s attention, such as the horrors of war, the fight for equal rights and the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic. These successive crises popularized through social media and a non-stop news cycle mash together, straining our collective mental health already drained by the last two years of “once-in-a-lifetime events.” Now, humans eagerly seek reprieves from their problems — a way to get lost so-to-speak. Yet, the question becomes what’s the best way to find a true sanctuary amid this chaos?

To that I say, look no further than to learn to flourish in nature, as I have over the years, to alleviate those stresses. There’s abundant material to support that a physiological response occurs when we traverse into nature, producing sensations of ease and tranquility that lower our stress levels. Moreover, when absent from the stress produced by social media, abstracting oneself from their technology, even just briefly, provides an immeasurable relief for someone’s mental well-being. In fact, the idea itself emerged at the start of the pandemic, as a means to distract people from the collective weight of isolation and worries of sickness, which were compounded by at-large stressors in the broader national dialogue. Thus, if anything, I implore you to see nature not just as a merely pleasant view, but rather to see it as a means of escape and a way to recharge yourself from the world’s complexities. 

At the end of the day, I can often be found pestering my friends, urging them to walk with me to detox after a long day back to the Clairmont Campus or to read with me on the Quad. Usually, I get a begrudging acceptance, followed by a sigh about the heat, wind and so forth. But by the end of our journeys, we almost always end up engaging in a terrific conversation about how the moment to stop or walk was their best choice of the day. My earnest hope is to open your horizons to the bounty of nature’s serenity and the ways you can flourish within it. Doing so inspires an immutable spirit, eager to work and preserve these natural wonders for future generations so they too can take stock of their horizons.

Demetrios Mammas (23C) is from Atlanta, Georgia.