Friday, March 20, 2020

Introducing 5 Minutes in Nature

Sunset Over Olympic Mountains, Washington

For the past several months, I’ve been working on a project called Five Minutes in Nature. My plan was to introduce it to you now — the first full day of spring. But this is not how I planned to do it.

Five Minutes in Nature is about getting more people outdoors, appreciating the natural world five minutes at a time. The original idea was to help people get away from their screens.

We desperately need to take breaks. Two-thirds of Americans suffer from job burnout. Our “always on” brains may shorten our lives, according to preliminary research.

Meanwhile, a Canadian study found that spending even five minutes outdoors can improve your mood. You don’t have to commit to hike for several hours. Even getting out of your office for five minutes delivers real benefits. The project was about inspiring you to do that.

And while I’m sure one day we will get back to worrying about our workloads, today there are bigger concerns. How many more people will get sick? Will my family be OK? How will we survive financially?

It’s natural to be scared. COVID-19 is affecting us all. Due to underlying medical issues, my family is in the high-risk category. Many friends have either had to close their businesses or have temporarily lost their jobs. Photography colleagues have canceled workshops and tours — their primary source of income. And by all indications things will get worse before they get better.

It seems to me that we still need five minutes of nature.

Is it safe to go outside?
Yes. The New York Times interviewed an expert in health security who said that taking your dog out for a walk or going to a park is “safe and necessary” for your mental health, providing you keep your distance from everyone else. Even areas that have ordered people to shelter in their homes have made an exception for going outside for some exercise. One person who went out for a walk told the Times that every step she took, the better she felt.

But ultimately the situation is changing fast. Follow the direction of your local authorities.

So how does Five Minutes in Nature work?
From time to time, I will post suggested activities on the Five Minutes in Nature website. The activities are designed to help you concentrate on nature and better appreciate what you’re seeing. And they won’t take long. You can do any of the activities in five minutes or less, although you can certainly spend more time on them if you want.

You also don’t have to venture deep into the wilderness. You can probably do many of them in your backyard. And while this project was originally about getting people out of their offices for a few minutes, I’ll be adjusting some of the upcoming activities to make them easier to do with your children, since they’re likely stuck at home.

When doing an activity, leave your smartphone in your pocket — or better yet, turn it off.

Don’t take pictures either. It’s odd advice coming from a photographer, but this is about helping you reduce your stress. Besides, I’ve found that I make better images if I invest some time living in the moment and focusing on what I’m seeing before I take the camera out of the bag. Enjoy the natural world for a few minutes. There will be time for pictures later.

The first activity
The first activity is simply to go out and watch a sunrise or a sunset. This time of year, they’re generally at convenient times and there is a lot to notice in just a few minutes.

When the sun is near the horizon, it may appear deep red in color. That’s because its light has to travel through more of the Earth’s atmosphere than it does when its overhead. Particles in our atmosphere block some of the light, particularly the color blue. At the horizon, the red wavelengths of light are the only ones that make it through the vast maze of particles to reach our eyes.

Watch how quickly the sky changes color. This will be even more noticeable if there are clouds high in the sky.

Animals can be very active at this time of day. Some will come out to feed, while others will find a place to hide or roost.

Finally, try to feel the wind change.

So put the electronic gadgets away. Try to ignore your worries. Spend five minutes concentrating on the natural world at sunrise or sunset.

What’s next?
Bookmark the Five Minutes in Nature website: There’s also an option to sign up for a mailing list. I’ll send you a quick email when a new activity is available.

I’m preparing short videos to explain the activities. You can watch the sunrise/sunset video here. Like and follow the channel to see more.

And please share these resources with everyone you know.

(Follow Kevin Ebi's photography on Facebook or Instagram. Prints of his images are available through

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