How much time do you spend in nature? If you’re like the average American, researchers say you are spending about 25 percent less time in nature-based recreation than you did during a peak in the late 1980s. This trend holds true in similar studies all over the industrialized world. Backyard time, while valuable, doesn’t really count; there’s a difference between man-made nature and nature. I’m talking about time spent in a state or national park, a state or national forest, or wilderness areas while hiking, biking, camping, backpacking, hunting or fishing. Many factors have been cited as the cause for this decline, from digital media to fear.
We lose touch with our natural world at our own peril mentally, physically and spiritually. When we step out of our five-senses overload world into nature, we benefit greatly in many areas of health and happiness, and this is well documented by science. Those of us who are engaged in the outdoor arts improve professionally.
As a sports field manager, I have benefitted greatly from the time I spend out in nature. It doesn’t really matter how we connect with nature, just that we do it in some way that we enjoy. For me, it’s mostly fly-fishing. There is so much to learn every time out. Watch the birds, they will know of insect behavior long before you will. If you go into a day unprepared and eyes closed, you will have a tough day. Be prepared for weather, especially the kind that’s not forecasted. Be patient, success rarely comes right away and is more satisfying when you have to work for it and figure out how to achieve it.
Each day on the river (and on my field) is essentially a problem-solving exercise. When fly-fishing or managing a sports field, it’s important to look under the surface, because that’s where the important things go on. On the river, I get out and pull up some bottom rocks to see which aquatic insects are living in this body of water. On my field, it’s just as important to look under the surface into the soil. Is it healthy? How does it smell? How do the roots look? Why? The more you know about the biology of your endeavor, the more productive you’ll be.
- Use high-quality equipment and products and take care of them! Failure loves the cheapest bid; buy the best. Is there anything worse than when your equipment lets you down? Go to conferences and trade shows, it’s a great way to learn. Visit colleagues, host visits. Taking time to give and take knowledge from other fly fishermen (or sports field managers) will elevate your competence and your confidence.
- Don’t look for things on the river, rather just observe. Do the same with your field. Invest in a good pair of sunglasses. Not because your future is so bright, but because they are light conditioners. The right kind will help you see the trout through the sun glare on the surface of the water. On your field, they will help you see subtle initial signs of stress through the “green wash” we are subjected to with the naked eye. Look at your field (and river) from different angles in relation to the sun; it can make all the difference.
- I have often said that the greatest assets a sports field manager can have are his “turf eyes.” What I really mean is the ability to be observant of the little slice of nature that we foolishly try to manipulate. We can test, collect data and reduce the subjective management decisions we make on our natural playing fields, and this is a worthy pursuit, but we will never fully eliminate the basic necessity to notice as we see, and make decisions on treatments and other actions based on these observations. Spending time in nature exercises and strengthens this critical ability. It forces us to observe instead of look, or see what you are not looking for. Why are the starlings grouping up on the turf and pecking at the ground? Better look out for grubs.
- Nature doesn’t use schedules or calendars, except on the grand scale. Time spent in nature teaches us that it’s the details that are somewhat chaotic. Our mission as sports field managers is to gently sway these details in such a way as to produce high-quality turf, a huge part of a quality playing surface. When fly-fishing, I have a general idea of which insects are “hatching” on the river at any particular time of year; this is what the trout will be keying on for food. But I have learned, over and over again, that each day and season and year on a river is different, and I have to adopt a read-and-react approach to my angling in order to be successful. It’s the same with our natural grass fields and how we manage them.
- The technology revolution has great benefits that will endure time, but we would be wise to stop the declining connection to our natural world. As a sports field manager, or anyone engaged in the outdoor arts, getting out in nature is the best way to understand the forces that govern our work, as well as improve our health and happiness.
“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” ~Henry David Thoreau