Nova Scotia·Q&A

A for Adventure: In a time of restrictions, there is wonder in nature, stillness

In a time of stress, don't underestimate the restorative power of nature. The peace to be found at the end of a trail or in the wintry light reflecting off a frozen lake. These moments inspire awe, wonder and joy. And right now, we could all use a little more of that.

As Omicron limits indoor opportunities, Chris Surette and Jan-Sebastian Lapierre hope you'll get outside

Jan-Sebastian Lapierre and Chris Surette say that getting outside can bring back the wonder of being a kid and inspire awe in nature. (@daveyandsky/Instagram)

In a time of stress, don't underestimate the restorative power of nature. In the peace to be found at the end of a trail or in the wintry light reflecting off a frozen lake.

These moments inspire awe, wonder and joy. And right now, we could all use a little more of that.

Portia Clark, host of CBC's Information Morning, spoke to the founders of A for Adventure, Chris Surette and Jan-Sebastian Lapierre, about the long-term benefits of spending time in nature — and they also had a few suggestions of where to explore.

This discussion has been edited for length, brevity and clarity.

Listen to the full interview here:

Awe and wonder — it seems like a really good place to start our new year for everyone.

Lapierre: "We want to frame this as awe really being that sense or that state of emotional mindfulness that's evoked by the external world. It's that moment of re-examination that sort of takes you out of your frame of reference — when you're sitting on that beach, it's dark and you look up at the stars and, for a second, your brain imagines the vastness of space and you're sort of brought out of yourself for a second.

That's why awe is so important, because it changes that frame of reference. And what researchers have found out about awe — because sometimes people almost think about awe as kind of this unnecessary emotion — is that, in fact, people who experience awe regularly have a reduction in their perception of threat. And that's really important because, ultimately, with Omicron and everything else, our perception of threat is everywhere. 

So when we step outside and we find these places, the wonder and the beauty kind of pulls us out of those bad mindsets.

Jan-Sebastian Lapierre and Chris Surette say there's something powerful in experiencing nature in all its winter splendour. (A for Adventure/Instagram)

Not everyone has the ability to get deep into nature as the two of you often do. So where can you find awe? Or is it a mindset as much as anything? 

Surette: It's really all about just opening that front door. It's about walking outside, creating space for yourself, creating time, slowing things down — and walking away from your phone and the news and social media. Opening that front door can often be the most difficult part; putting on your boots and your jacket and your gloves and your hat and creating that space for yourself, especially with kids, because it can take 20 minutes to wrangle them all up. 

So we realize the difficult task that it can be, but the benefits of just getting out, letting the kids run around, letting yourself run around and giving yourself that time to sit on a rock and look over a lake and watch that eagle fly overhead — see what it does to your mental state. It really is such a powerful opportunity to just sit and be still. 

The sense of wonder at seeing something helps people carry that sense of stillness and peace into other areas of their lives, the founders of A for Adventure say. (A for Adventure/Instagram)

I want to make sure that I ask each of you about a place where you've experienced awe recently. Chris, where is that for you? 

Surette: With this virus, we haven't travelled too far recently, so it's all about exploring Nova Scotia and the region. One experience that really sticks out is a fall trip I took to Lowlands Cove way up in the very tip of Cape Breton. You park at Meat Cove and then you hike across about 10 kilometres or so to newly protected Nova Scotia Nature Trust properties. So sitting on the edge of the cliff, overlooking the ocean on a beautiful sunset evening, knowing that this land is protected forever, the sense of gratitude that I felt and the power that I felt in just being there was such a special moment. We talked about the word awe, but you know, I was sitting there just in disbelief. And also just the gratitude of how beautiful Nova Scotia is and rediscovering Nova Scotia over the past year has been really special for me.

(Adam Cornick/Acorn Art Photography)

I love that you've brought gratitude into the equation, because that's what I often feel when I'm out in nature, too. Jan, what's an experience that you've had this year? 

Lapierre: We were just on the beach the other day in Lockeport. And my little guy, he's running around and he's picking up shells. He's picking up things that anybody might be interested in on a beach, but to see it in his eyes, where he's experiencing that for the first time, is so critical. 

And that's an invitation back to anybody: if you really want to evoke this sense of awe, find somebody who is experiencing something new.

What we find is that awe and wonder are a skill, and the more you do it, the more you experience it. So put yourself in those situations. Go find somebody who you know would really benefit from seeing something that you might find wondrous. And then go enjoy it together as safely as you can. 

(Nicole Boutilier)

With files from CBC's Information Morning