The Healing Power of Open Space

Sunrise at Odiorne Point State Park in Rye, New Hampshire.

I began my career as a conservation photographer in the early’90’s as an idealistic 20-something who loved being out in the woods and wanted to see as much wilderness as possible protected for future generations. I still hold on to some of that idealism, though my view of conservation has grown and become more nuanced over the intervening decades. Here in New England, I’ve witnessed some amazing land conservation success stories over the last 25 years, even as our country has fallen terribly short in stemming climate change.

With today’s post however, I want to keep my focus narrow, and on a belief which has become more important to me during the last four years, that we need to strive to protect not only big wilderness areas, but smaller pockets of open space close to population centers. As many of you know, four years ago I was diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer, which required a year of treatments: 2 surgeries, 6 weeks of radiation and chemo, then 6 more months of chemo. Thankfully, my treatment worked as planned, and I’ve been cancer-free for three years now. Throughout my recovery, I made almost daily “healing trips” to nearby conserved lands on the coast in Rye and New Castle, New Hampshire, and Kittery, Maine.

As a conservation and adventure photographer, I was accustomed to spending 100+ days every year outside, interacting with nature with my camera and with my body – hiking, biking, and paddling in wild places throughout New England.  During my year of treatments, I was unable to take on those activities, and one thing that kept me sane was my daily trips to the shoreline close to home, where I could take a ten minute walk, sit on a rock, and listen to the surf and birds. I know with 100% certainty that those small doses of nature helped me heal faster and more completely than would have been possible otherwise.

I am blessed to have these places within a few miles of my house, and my experience has made me believe that it is a basic human right to have access to protected open spaces for free and close to home. I’m not sure how realistic it is to think this possible for everyone, but at least one NGO I have worked for, The Trust for Public Land, is now promoting this idea. Check out their campaign, Everyone Deserves a Park a 10-minute Walk from Home.

So after what has been a fruitful and rewarding year of work with some great clients, and with my recent cancer-free diagnosis, I am feeling pretty darn grateful these days. With Thanksgiving around the corner, many of you are probably thinking of making some donations to charitable organizations, so I thought I’d share some ideas with you:

If you have the desire to donate to cancer-related causes, these are the ones I support:

Dana Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund

On-Belay

Brigham and Women’s Hospital

In my professional life, I am always grateful for all of the incredible non-profit conservation organizations that I work with throughout the year. If you are looking to support an environmental cause this year (and with our current anti-environment administration in the US, these organizations need our help more than ever), these are the groups I’ve worked with over the last few years (in alphabetical order.) I can vouch that all do meaningful work.

Appalachian Mountain Club

Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Connecticut River Conservancy

Conservation Fund

Conservation Law Foundation

Essex County Greenbelt Association

Highstead Foundation

Land Trust Alliance

Maine Coast Heritage Trust

Manomet

Mt. Agamenticus to the Sea Conservation Initiative

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

National Parks Conservation Association

Nature Conservancy

Northern Forest Center

Open Space Institute

Great Bay Discovery Center

Seacoast Science Center

Society for the Protection of NH Forests

Southeast Land Trust of NH

Trust for Public Land

Wells Reserve

Wildlands Trust

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