MOUNTAIN LIFE - Blue Mountains | Spring 2021

46 words :: Dan Rubinstein When the world went haywire in last March, I was on my way to Maine for some solo SUP surfing. I had just dropped off my wife and daughters at the Ottawa airport, bound for a visit with family in Alberta, and was driving toward the American border when the radio said schools in Ontario would remain closed for two weeks after March Break. Had we known how quickly and destructively COVID-19 would wash across the continent, we would have bailed on both trips. But they were in the air, and I had a van full of paddleboards and cold- weather gear. Despite the sense of looming chaos, bobbing around the ocean by myself in a rural corner of the U.S. felt pretty safe—a perfect place to steel myself for the storm ahead. A few weeks later, back home in Ottawa and settling into lockdown mode, the rivers began to melt. It was freshet and standing- wave season. As coronavirus cases spiked, there were debates about the need for physical distancing while running and walking around the city. Heading to my put-in for early-morning surf sessions, I justified these outings as contactless mental health interventions. On the water—whether gliding back and forth on a river wave or getting tossed into the Atlantic—my worries were soothed by finding sync with forces far greater than I. Just like spending time outside in green space has been proven to be good for our mental health, hanging out in the aquatic equivalent— blue space—is a tonic for the brain. In fact, according to a growing body of research, the therapeutic powers of coastlines, lakes and rivers are even more pronounced. Dr. Mathew White, an environmental psychologist at the University of Exeter in the U.K., says blue space has “consistently been shown to lead to significantly higher benefits, in inducing positive mood and reducing negative mood and stress, than green space does,” reports The Guardian. White attributes these benefits to cleaner air, blue space’s incentive and infrastructure for physical activity, and a psychologically restorative effect with evolutionary roots. Even walking along a beach, he says, “there’s a transition towards thinking outwards towards the environment... putting your life in perspective.” Something more immersive, such as swimming or surfing, really puts you in tune with nature, says White: “You have to understand the motion of the wind, the movement of the water .... We’re kind of getting back in touch with our historical heritage, cognitively.” White’s research meshes well with the ideas explored in BlueMind , by marine biologist Dr. Wallace J. Nichols. The book dives into “the physical, ecological, economic, cognitive, emotional, psychological, physical and social benefits of healthy oceans and waterways” and “shows how proximity to water can improve performance, increase calm, diminish anxiety and increase professional success.” Nichols, who has worked on conservation issues ranging from sea turtles to ocean plastics, now focuses on advocating for “emotional connection to waters of all kinds,” for the betterment of ourselves and the planet. Such words aren’t only the domain of scientists. Every instructor How the pandemic has revealed the power of “blue space” WATER ELEMENTAL ALCHEMY