Get Grounded in the Great Outdoors

Friday, May 21, 2021

While 2021 may seem in some ways like a slow-motion repeat of 2020, nature and the outdoors may help anchor and inspire you. You may have caught footage of the volcano erupting in Geldingadalir, Iceland since late March and still erupting as of this writing.

Personally, I have found it strangely calming to check in on this break in the earth’s crust halfway around the world, as it slowly oozes out lava.

There is evidence that just 10 minutes of time spent in nature in young adults can reduce bodily and psychological signs of stress as well as increase energy and concentration, as opposed to taking the same break in an urban environment without nature.

Other non-experimental study has suggested that across a broad range of ages, two hours a week in nature was associated with greater sense of well-being and connectedness. Especially for those living in cities, research suggests spending time in green spaces (or blue spaces, around bodies of water) can improve mood overall and alleviate some symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The mechanisms are not well understood, but in the meantime it seems reasonable to get outside more and explore the outdoors.

San Francisco Parks

For those with any desire to see dogs frolicking along the Pacific Ocean or the chance to watch hang-gliders floating in the air alongside the cliffs, Fort Funston is a park located in San Francisco south of Lake Merced.

I highly recommend the sunsets, where you can watch the sun disappearing into the horizon while dogs of all sizes run in the waves and you feel like you’ve walked into Dog Heaven.

You can reach Fort Funston from the city by public transportation, though it requires more than one transfer.

A piece of nature closer to the city center is Mount Sutro, the giant hill located behind Parnassus campus which features several trails winding through steep hillsides covered in eucalyptus.

If you are lucky, you may run into the worker goats who are commissioned occasionally to trim back weeds.

Finally, one of my favorite parts of Golden Gate Park is the AIDS Memorial Grove. This place was established in the 1980s to honor those who died during the AIDS epidemic, especially members of the queer and hemophilia communities.

The little glen is tucked down in a corner of Golden Gate park which makes it more intimate than the popular areas of Golden Gate Park.

The memorial features rock engravings that prompt quiet reflection, and there is a soothing stand of redwood trees as well as a short path to walk alongside a shady stream of water.

The central area is an exposed grassy area that is popular on the weekends for picnics, though the area tends to be less crowded than surrounding parts of Golden Gate Park.

Entering the grove puts me in a different mindset when I reflect on the history that lives here, where diseases before COVID-19 struck communities in San Francisco and people had to support one another through a tragedy.

Botanicals and Gardens

Earlier, this year sakura and purple leaf plum trees were blooming and shedding across the city, coating the ground in certain neighborhoods with tiny pink petals.

Two places to find more trees and their plant friends are the San Francisco Botanical Garden and the Japanese Tea Garden, both located within Golden Gate Park.

If you check their websites, you will find when the gardens have free hours - the Botanical Garden is also free to San Francisco residents who present proof of residency (such as a driver’s license with a San Francisco address).

As of this writing, the Japanese Tea Garden is free Monday, Wednesday, and Friday if you enter between 9 am and 10 am.

If you are curious about more of the trees growing within the city, information can be found on the site SF Trees, which includes information about where to find specific individuals of a species and how to identify them.

UCSF Kayaking and Paddleboarding

Since outdoor activities have become recognized as low risk for COVID-19 transmission, we have seen a reopening of kayaking and paddleboarding through UCSF Outdoors Programs. UCSF students and employees can sign up to rent kayaks or stand up paddleboards through the Campus Life Services.

The UCSF maintains open-top kayaks and paddleboards located just a few blocks north of the Mission Bay campus. Students are also eligible for free guided kayak trips from the boathouse that take place in the morning, afternoon, and at sunset in the protected waterway of Mission Creek, where they can see the little cluster of houseboats anchored there and paddle past the 4th Street Bridge to the waters outside the ballpark.

And for those days when you are stuck working from home but wishing for a bit of nature, you can peek into the Monterey Bay Aquarium via livestream to see sea nettles or moon jellies glide past on your computer.