The other day I was walking to campus along College Street and decided to cut through Wally Byam park. Along the sidewalk, MSU has planted a variety of different flowers, including petunias and pansies. As I walked past the short stretch of garden, the soft, sweet smell of these flowers wafted through the air. Upon first smelling the flowers, I let out a huge sigh, felt my shoulders drop and immediately felt all the tension I didn’t know I was carrying leave my body. Studies on trees and other plants shows there is a certain power and comfort that can be found in the midst of nature. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we could all use a little more time spent with Mother Nature.
Just being in nature can lead to improved health and creativity, among many other benefits. According to Jill Suttie, a doctor of psychology, a 15 minute walk in a forest-like setting can reduce symptoms of anxiety, fatigue and even depression. Who knew trees could do so much more than just produce the oxygen we breathe?
In Bozeman, there are plenty of places to experience the benefits of Mother Nature. If you’re crunched on time between work and studies, Story Mill Community Park is only a 10 minute car ride or 15 minute bike ride from campus. The park contains 60 acres of land, featuring a section of restored wetlands that provides opportunities for bird- and wildlife-watching made accessible by trails and boardwalks. The nature sanctuary is a great quiet place to take a mindful walk, photograph some birds or read a good book. Listen to the twitterings of the birds and the wind blowing through the trees, match your breathing to it and experience clarity and relaxation.
If you’re up for a longer adventure, hiking Hyalite Peak is a great option. The trail takes you through dense evergreen forest with beautiful undergrowth of ferns, mosses and other shrubs. There are also a few waterfalls along the trail which have great spots to take photos, sketch or paint watercolors on the way up to Hyalite Lake. If you’re up for a little leg-burnin’ scrambling, Hyalite Peak is an extra two miles from the lake. Once at the top, the views are absolutely breathtaking.
For a shorter, closer-to-town option, Triple Tree provides a mountain-like feel without the full-day commitment of Hyalite. The trail provides a bit of everything in terms of scenery, from rolling green meadows to slightly more woody growth with a creek that you’ll cross over numerous times. Benches are placed periodically throughout so that you can enjoy the trickling creek and smell the earthiness of the undergrowth. As you begin to ascend into the evergreens, you can take in the sweet sticky smell of tree sap. At the summit, you can capture some beautiful pictures of the valley, all from the comfort of yet another bench placed for your convenience.
These are only a handful of places that you can go to reconnect with Mother Nature and take some time for yourself. It’s hard to remember how important it is to create space for moments of quiet and self-care in the midst of school, work and life’s unexpected stressors. What are you waiting for? Get yourself outside amongst the rocks and evergreens.