By Jeff Tome

Gentle waves lapped the shore with a soothing rhythm as we walked along the edge of Lake Erie. Loons were diving into the water and bobbing back up. Gulls screamed overhead and dove down to grab fish lurking just under the surface. The beach was almost empty in the late fall breeze.

There is something about lakes that draws me like a magnet. Perhaps it is their sheer size. The gray water seems to loom overhead on the horizon even as the soft waves lap at the shore. The vastness of the lake makes any personal problems or troubles seem small by comparison. Mountains and vast forests have the same effect on me.

The looming water, the soothing waves and the beach that disappears in to the distance brings a still calmness to my soul. The rocky beaches of Lake Erie release the child in me. I poke along and search for the perfect skipping rock or the tiny shells my mom called ‘periwinkles’ when I was a child. Driftwood poking out of the sand looks more like sculptures sanded smooth into unique forms, causing my path to veer here and there to examine each one and look at it.

I grew up a ten-minute drive, or a thirty-minute bike ride, from the nearest Lake Erie beach. It was a place I went to think and let my mind relax into the sounds and smells of the water. The beach is further away now, and I don’t get there as often, but the feeling of peace that the water brings never changes.

Photo by Jeff Tome

Research shows that I am not alone. Studies show that you can improve your mood just by walking in nature. There are whole articles on the website of the American Psychological Association about how looking at a green area can improve concentration and happiness while decreasing mental distress.

These things are increasingly important in a time when fewer and fewer people seem to get outside at all. A study by the Outdoor Foundation in 2018 showed that just under 18% of people spent time outside more than once a week. Children were spending 15% less time outside. There seemed to be fewer and fewer people outside.

That changed over the last couple of years. More people seemed to find their way outside during quarantine. As indoor activities decreased, more people went outside for fun. Audubon’s trails always seemed busier. Online forums reported parking lots at trails heads were consistently full. People bemoaned that their favorite places were inundated with masses of people who didn’t know some of the simple rules of the trail, like carrying out the garbage you carry in, bringing a map or taking a photo of the map before walking, and not blocking other cars in at the parking lot.

It was a delightful disaster-in-the-making. While I sympathized with all the die-hard hikers and dog-walkers whose favorite places had become crowded and littered, I was thrilled to see so many people venturing outside.

I hope that, as more people went outside, they started noticing that there is a lot more than trees out there. There are tree frogs, snakes, porcupines, bear, deer, lichens, moss, and so much more. There are so many living things in one local forest that it would take several lifetimes to see it all.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and other books about the importance of getting outside, said “We cannot protect something we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot know what we do not see. And touch. And hear.”

The more time I spend outside, the more I learn about the world we live in. The more I learn, the more I care about protecting those things. I doubt I will ever become an anti-logging, anti-hunting kind of person, but there are things out there that use the same resources that we do. The more I see them, the more I want to create a balance in how people use a resource and how the animals around us need the resource.

The outdoors can bring peace and calm to a troubled soul. It can also help us get to know, recognize, and appreciate the world around us in a way that brings us an understanding of how people affect the world around us.

Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are still open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Nature Center is partially open, including restrooms, the Blue Heron Gift Shop, and some exhibits. More information can be found online at or by calling (716) 569-2345.