Conservation and Mental Health. Tracking Diaries #3
They say that looking at trees can improve your mood. Merely being in the presence of these grand monuments of nature is credited with boosting the immune system, lowering blood pressure, lowering stress, accelerating recovery from injury, even increasing altruistic tendencies and curing ADHD.
(As a former child diagnosed with ADHD I can verify that nature isn’t so much a cure for ADHD as the ultimate validation of it: finally, something engaging to my attention on every level!)
It’s a good thing that searching for sloths involves a lot of trees, because today I’m going to need all the mental health I can get. This is largely due to the car parked across the street, which—thanks to some wiring malfunction—has its horn permanently stuck in one endless honk. 90.9 decibels, in case you were wondering. Yes, I measured. Sometimes It’s good to be a researcher.
The driver is nowhere in sight.
I focus on my job and make a mental list of all the reasons I should not start smashing windows. Reason #4, that it would reflect badly on SloCo, isn’t that compelling once I start to think of silencing the car as a public service. I finally stop at Reason #8, which is that I don’t have a baseball bat handy.
Mental health is a real thing. Conservationists fight daily to protect the natural world and some days it can feel like all we’re doing is documenting its destruction. The frustration and anger are also real, and usually lack such accessible targets as the faulty SUV parked next to me. If I could take a baseball bat to Climate Change, or Political Apathy, or Illegal Logging, those issues would be laying in tiny pieces on the ground; alas, these are bigger problems than one person can solve, and they won’t be solved with violence.
The sloth I am observing, a tan-colored Hoffman’s Two Fingered sloth, Choloepus hoffmanni, sleeps calmly through the entire episode.
I put down the binoculars, close my eyes, and try to imagine myself as a sloth; calm in the trees, above it all, so sure and content that even the unnatural sound of broken traffic doesn’t bother me. I concentrate on drinking in the energy of the sea almonds, the serenity of the sky, and dream of the quiet photosynthesis of the leaves.
To my astonishment, the car horn stops. No one has approached the vehicle, it seems to have magically fixed itself. This is amazing. I take a deep breath and radiate thanks towards the world around me.
I guess I’m going to have to apologize to my kung fu teacher, it seems that meditation really does work!
Connecting with nature is one of the best things we can do for our mental health. The other best thing we can do is connect with each other. Nothing we are working for is hopeless, and nothing is a better reminder of that than working with and among others who are taking action to study, preserve, and regenerate the splendor of the natural world.
The trees are still here—they are resilient. The sloths are unbothered—they are also resilient. I, too, am resilient, if I let myself be.
I have a lot to learn from the sloths.
Urban Sloth Project Assistant