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Nature and Wellness

Harpswell Heritage Land Trust
October 18, 2018

By Monique Coombs, Director of Marine Programs for the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association

Coombs family (author on the left)

It should come as no surprise to anyone that I would convey the importance of being outside and in nature with the life of a fisherman. Although, many people do not have the opportunity to work outside every day, or be on the water so often, we intuit the importance of being outside for our well-being, creativity, and mental health.

Tired, salty, sore, and tanned, a fisherman will come in from a long day on the water, sell his catch, and head home with a sense of both completion and accomplishment. If days go by and a fisherman cannot fish, he can become impatient and exasperated. I’ve always thought this may have something to do with a desire to work and a need to pay bills, but I’ve become more convinced that it is everything to do with fresh air, nature, and wellness, as well as achievement and purpose.

Many visitors to Maine in the summer envy the life of fishermen only seeing them leave the wharf on a beautiful sunshiny day and comparing that to their life in a cubicle or office. It’s undoubtedly not the hard work they envy, but the ability to be outside and with nature.

Everyone would do better to be outside and experiencing nature more often; whether a walk on a local trail or a game of badminton in the backyard, being outside is known to greatly impact wellness, inspiration, memory, creativity and overcoming creative blocks, brain function, and mental health. Many writers credit walking for their inspiration. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” In How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, Orson Scott Card has suggested that it’s “worth the time to take an hour’s walk before writing. You may write a bit less for the time spent, but you may find that you write better.”

The time away from electronics and the opportunity to reflect that happens when spending quality time in nature is also important to wellness and mental health. Being outside with others and experiencing shared joy can combat loneliness and improve happiness, preventing depression and reducing anxiety. When you exercise, endorphins are released in the brain, which have a positive impact on your mood. Exercise also produces hormones that can improve sleep, help release muscle tension, and reduce inflammation.
The more time spent outdoors, whether walking or hiking or a quick jog, helps develop a sense of purpose, which improves confidence and self-esteem, which can, of course, impact other parts of your life including work and social life.

One of the best parts of being a part of fishing family is also giving kids the opportunity to experience life on the water. When my kids have gone fishing with their dad, it seems they come back with more patience, a sense of purpose and appreciation, a better understanding of time, and they sleep a little better. There are no electronics on the water, just fresh air, open water, and lots of time.

To round out my imperfect comparison, we can all live a little more like a fisherman without having to quit our jobs and fish for a living. By going for a walk and spending just a bit more time with nature, we can achieve a greater sense of well-being, increase creativity, and improve our overall mental and physical health.