Bench Benefits

Nina Fuller, photographer and equine-facilitated mental health practitioner, once asked me during a visit if I’d walk with her to “the bench.”

It seemed like an innocuous enough invitation, so I joined her. We walked with her dogs past the horse and sheep pastures, past a pond, and through the woods. Sun shone between the trees. Dew dotted our boots as we moved towards the back of her Maine 10455968_789033427796538_3278883839093501984_nproperty, across a tiny brook, to an opening in the woods.

There sat a blue bench. It looked like it was waiting for us.

The Blue Bench has been a funky Fuller project for a few years. The seat itself was a 35-dollar purchase made on a whim. The placement of it was her acknowledgement that the meadow itself and the walk to get to it were special. [Photo at right shows Fuller with Maddy Butcher, Marsha Craig, and Jack Martin. Read more about Craig and Martin’s work with equine therapy here.

“There’s something about it that resonates with everyone who goes there,” said Fuller recently by phone.

The horsewoman routinely invites visitors to stroll out to the bench. She takes her camera and posts images on her Blue Bench Project on facebook.

As the routine has developed, returning visitors often ask, “Can we go to the bench?” she told me. “There is a healing, spiritual thing going on there. It’s calm. People slow down. I think a lot of it has to do with the walk.”

No bench, but these boys have the same idea.

No bench, but these boys have the same idea.

Indeed, even the folks at the National Academy of Sciences are recognizing the mental health benefits of getting into nature. A recent study noted “reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness” when subjects took a 90-minute walk in natural environment. Broadly speaking, people who experience more nature are less depressed. There was no positive effect when the subjects walked in an urban setting. Read more here.

Scientists note similar mental health benefits from human interaction with animals, especially horses. Read this review of research on kids involved with equine-facilitated learning.

Most of you have animals. But do you have a bench to go to?

“This idea isn’t owned by me. Everyone needs one.” And with that in mind, Fuller ended our phone call. Her dog heard her say the word “bench” 20 minutes ago and has been ready to go ever since.

Read related article on time with horses.

Is Utah’s outside troubling your insides?

A few astute doctors are reporting a worrisome increase in brain-related cancers and diseases in and around Salt Lake County. IMG_4176The state rate of Parkinson’s Disease is double the national average. Some think the PD numbers are even under-reported because of the dearth of qualified neurologists in Utah. Last year, the University of Utah established the first in the nation Parkinson’s Registry with doctors now being asked to report all cases.

Doctors have also observed a relatively high number of two rare neurological pathologies: glioblastomas and the logopenic variant of primary progression aphasia. The former is the most aggressive form of brain cancer. The latter is similar to Alzeimer’s but it attacks the brain’s language center, not the memory.

Got the heebie-jeebies yet?

Admittedly, sample sizes are small. But the Utah Physicians for a Healthy

A typical smoggy day in Salt Lake Valley

A typical smoggy day in Salt Lake Valley

Environment has a chock-full library of links to articles and papers making the case for the cruddy-environment-cruddy-health connection. Remember Woburn, Massachusetts? (where the rate of leukemia was linked to water contamination. The award-winning movie, A Civil Action, was based on those events.) How about Fallon, Nevada?

Our house sits above the dreaded Inversion (the nearly permanent layer of smog that sits on the valley). But some days, I’ve had a constant headache. It consistently coincides with the air quality. I feel for folks living in the thick of it.

So, why aren’t more folks jumping up and down, asking lawmakers, civic, industrial, and business partners to address these concerns?

Could it have something to do with Utah being one of the most industry- and business-friendly states in the country? (Forbes  ranked it the most business-friendly state in the nation last year. The Beehive State rarely drops out of the magazine’s top 3.)

Could it have something to do with the composition of the legislature (about 80 percent Republican)?

I talked with Dr. Brian Moench, board president of the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. The group has lobbied successfully for cleaner air and last year won a significant court battle against a Salt Lake refinery. He pointed out the obvious:

Children at the Natural History Museum of Utah

Children at the Natural History Museum of Utah

advocates for clean air (and water and earth) swim against the tide in this state. Check out the UPHE library of research connecting environmental factors with illness.

I’m wondering which will trigger change: a greater uptick in disease or a downturn in the success of pollutant-contributing industries?

There’s a popular interactive exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Utah. It allows players to input populations and environmental factors to see just how very challenged Salt Lake County will be in a decade or two. The kids get it.

Why aren’t adults playing?

 

 

 

A Feline Catch and Release

Say what you will about trapping. It’s not always humane and not always pursued by hunters of integrity and compassion. (Us “non-consumptive” parties – hikers, bikers, and horseback riders – can be less than virtuous, too, tossing litter and otherwise trashing the wilderness.)

But the efforts of one trapper and one conservation officer for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, were most impressive and effective when a big, healthy mountain lion was nabbed in a trap intended for bobcat.

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 10.42.17 AMIt happened late last year in the Pine Valley Mountain Range, in Washington County, said the officer, Mark Ekins. The trapper (who wishes to remain unnamed) checked his trap after setting it the day before. Ekins estimated the cat had been in the trap 10 hours. With his cell phone propped on a nearby log, the two tended to the big cat and released it within six minutes. No tranquilizer darting. No equipment save a few catch poles. Check out the video here.

The release was just another day on the job, demurred Ekins. “It’s all relative to what you’re used to. I’d rather release a mountain lion than jump out of a plane.” In the 10 years on the job, he’s never gotten hurt and has released scores of predators. Once, a bobcat took a swipe and knocked off his glove.

Initially, the 10-year veteran officer (whose father worked as a Utah game warden for decades) brought the video home to show the wife and kids. They weren’t overly impressed. “It was not a big deal to them,” said Ekins of his family’s reaction.

IMG_5591 copyBut after he posted it on his personal Facebook page, he got a call from KLS, the Salt Lake City television news station. Reporter Faith Heaton Jolley covered the story here.

Suffice to say, viral happens. The video and accompanying story have been reported in England and beyond. It’s been viewed over 100 thousand times.

Reaction has been mixed, remarked Ekins, with some commenters calling trapping “’cruel and barbaric’ while others understand that trapping is an important part of conservation.”

On that December day, Ekins monitored the cat’s recovery and followed its tracks. He said it was in “great shape and great health.” After resting for several minutes, it moved off and seemed fine, he said.

 

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