Monday, June 23, 2008

Ecopsychology, the beginning for me

My garden made my recovery from my solar disappointment much more bearable. It's amazing to me how healing and centering it can be to put your hands in the dirt.

I first started seriously gardening while living in Florida. It was ideal real estate for a vegetable garden - smack in the middle of a 10,000 acre research ranch. I carved out a little 10' by 12' plot and plugged away. Cabbages, cantaloupes, collards, tomatoes, peppers, pennyroyal, New Zealand spinach, cleome, coreopsis, candytuft, sunflowers, and zinnias...and much more.

I also happened to work at the Center for Great Apes for 18 months or so while I lived down there. At the Center I mostly did office work but once a week I also got to help out with ape care, cut browse, help with grounds maintenance, etc. So I was outside a lot, immersed in nature, with beautiful views and plants and the vibrations of growth all around me.

I think it really saved me. I was in Florida because my first husband worked on the research ranch. Our relationship had always been rocky but in Florida it really went to shit. I was a young thing, a kid, really. Too young to be married and halfway across the country from my family and roots. It didn't last long and I eventually packed up and came back to Oklahoma to go to grad school.

Looking back I really believe that my connection to the earth (as cheesy as that sounds) got me through. Being able to sit on the earth, put my hands inside it, feel it under my fingers and under my fingernails...I felt connected to something deeper. I could feel the rhythm of the season and the passage of time felt inexorable. Like a deep core hum that this, too, will pass. And it did.

I don't know what the ending of my first marriage would've been like if I'd been city bound or (horrors!) suburb-bound during that time. While going through that really sucked, I think it happened in the best of all possible places.

I think this really gets at the idea of ecopyschology - that we are tied in very fundamental ways to ecology and the earth in terms of our most basic psychological experience. There are fascinating theories about ecopsychology. The most compelling to me is the idea that we evolved as a species over millions of years in concert with a growing planet. Prior to agriculture we were hunter-gatherers who recognized and used and saved the resources available all around us. And then suddenly, within the last 100 years, we've started this radical shift toward alienation from nature. What sort of profound implications can this have on our psyches? Our brains? Our lives?

I know that it's terribly complex and involves multiple factors, like more "free-time" with which to grow more neurotic, and more mobility which causes a loss of sense of place, etc. But how about the research that simply having a view of nature lengthens attention span, soothes the brain, and speeds healing? That is powerful magic!There are actual journal articles reporting on research related to these topics but they're only accessible via paid library subscription. Some to try if you have access:

  • Kaplan, R. (2001). The nature of the view from home: Psychological benefits. Environment and Behavior, 33, 507–542.
  • Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: Towards an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15, 169–182.
  • Kaplan, S., & Kaplan, R. (1989). The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Kaplan, R. (1985). Nature at the doorstep: Residential satisfaction and the nearby environment. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, 2, 115–127.
  • Berto, R. (2005). Exposure to restorative environments helps restore attentional capacity. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 25, 249–259.
  • De Vries, S., Verheij, R. A., Groenewegen, P. P., & Spreeuwenberg, P. (2003). Natural environments, healthy environments? An exploratory analysis of the relationship between green space and health.
  • Environment and Planning A, 35, 1717–1731.Frerichs, R. (2004). Gezondheid en natuur; Een onderzoek naar de relatie tussen gezondheid en natuur [Health and nature; a research into the relation between health and nature]. Graveland (NL): Vereniging Natuurmonumenten.
  • Hartig, T. (2004). Restorative environments. In C. Spielberger (Ed.), Encyclopedia of applied psychology (Vol. 3, pp. 273-279). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
  • Hartig, T., Mang, M., & Evans, G. W. (1991). Restorative effects of natural environment experience. Environment and Behavior, 23, 3–26.
  • Hartig,T.,& Staats, H. (2006). The need for psychological restoration as a determinant of environmental preferences. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 26, 215–226.
  • Ulrich, R. S. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224, 420–421.
  • Ulrich, R. S. (1993). Biophilia, biophobia and natural landscapes. In S.R.Kellert,&E.O.Wilson (Eds.). The biophilia hypothesis (pp. 73–137). Washington, DC: Island Press.
  • Van den Berg, A. E., Koole, S. L., & Van der Wulp, N. Y. (2003). Environmental preference and restoration: (How) are they related? Journal of Environmental Psychology, 23, 135–146.
It's fascinating stuff. I plan to write more about it here along the way.

In conclusion, here's what makes me feel connected today:

Garden seen from the northside:

Ichiban eggplant ready to eat this week:

Jumbo Pink Banana Squash planted May 21-ish

Volunteer Sunflower

Okra flower

Hungarian Wax peppers


Eight Ball Zucchini

Saturday's Harvest (a squirrel precipitated the picking of the volunteer butternut squash)


Hausfrau said...

Thanks for writing about ecopsychology. It's really an under-appreciated field and you have such a unique viewpoint for us to hear from! How many eco-psychologists are out there blogging?? And how on earth did you get such a huge butternut squash so soon? My plants are huge but their fruits are still tiny!

Lewru said...

The butternut squash was a volunteer. It came up from the compost just about as early as it possibly could, I guess. I noticed it in mid-April. The vine has taken over my backyard! And there are 5 more squash about that size ready to come off!

anajz said...

This is all very interesting Lewru.
I agree with goodness your squash is huge. I have a very small eggplant coming on, but that is about it. I guess living about 230 miles north of you makes a huge difference in the season. Your garden is flourishing and mine looks almost as it did the day I planted it.

Lewru said...

Don't forget we've had 3 months in a row of 9+" rain! We're the new Louisiana down here.