Sleeping in Mother Nature’s Arms

Direct experience teaches me a lot about what my body craves from nature.

Several years ago, a friend and I went camping at a beautiful California State Park called Sugarloaf Ridge, above the Valley of the Moon in Sonoma County. Our campsite was nestled between meadow and forest. The weather was warm, and our setup was simple: we slept in sleeping bags on a tarp on the ground.

We were blissfully far from the noises of traffic and urban life, but I had trouble sleeping the first night. Animals crept around, crunching dry leaves and twigs. Breezes rustled the tree branches and stroked our faces. And the moon shone so brightly that I wanted to turn the danged thing off and get some sleep!

It only took me one night to adjust. By the second night, the same nocturnal sounds, smells, and moonlight felt deeply nourishing. I slept soundly and well, my senses gently massaged all night long by the rich textures of the living world.

I began to look forward to nighttime. Hiking and lounging by day was fun, but I derived a deep and unique satisfaction from feeling woven into the web of nature as I slept.

When the time came to go home, I felt like a baby being torn from its mother’s breast. My soul wailed over returning to my quiet, safe, sensorially bland home. I wanted only to be immersed in the scents, sights, and sounds of complex, pulsing, nourishing surroundings.

Whew. It wrenches my gut just to recall that feeling.

Here’s my take on what happened: Our bodies are thoroughly accustomed, from millennia of relationship, to the sensory nourishment of natural elements and living communities. But we’ve adjusted to indoor and urban living, with their odd combination of sensory overwhelm and deprivation. So an encounter with the complexity of a forest can initially feel unfamiliar; it takes a little time for that deeper familiarity to awaken. And once we feel that nature-love, it’s really hard to give it up again.

So, great, what do we do about this? My Sugarloaf Ridge Revelation became a touchstone for me. I can’t recreate that magical forest at home, but I can reach for ways to change my home environment to feed me more of the sensory nourishment I crave, asleep and awake. I’ll share more stories about how I’ve done so, for myself and my clients, in future blog posts.

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  1. Carol,

    You describe exactly what I’ve experienced, when camping. I never did get time to adjust. But you’ve now inspired me to take a rare camping trip before the summer’s over. Let’s see how I do this time.

    Here in the big city, the most I can hear at night is the chorus of bats flying by my window. One night, I was awakened by a bat that had flown into my bedroom and bounced off my bed. I turned on the light, to find it trapped between two window panes as it had tried to escape. I gently freed it. Watching it unfurl its wings and fly into the light of the full moon, I was reminded that even in the city, nature’s here to stay..

    • Hi Regina,
      I applaud both of your points:
      1. that nature is present wherever we are (nice to be reminded), even when it lacks the biodiversity we tend to prefer;
      2. that it’s great to go camping and get recharged! Have a wonderful trip.


  2. I never thought about this but I think you’re right! I’m a frequent insomniac but don’t ever recall having trouble sleeping out in the wild. Hmmm… well, actually I take that back – when the temps drop below freezing, or the bears are prowling, or the wind is howling like a freight train… then I don’t sleep too well. Otherwise, I sleep like a baby when I’m out in nature. Its particularly lovely near moving water – ocean, river, stream. Such a lullaby. I’m going to mull this idea over for awhile… very interesting. Thank you!

    • Great observations, Susan! Indeed, there are natural circumstances that are not all warm and fuzzy. That’s the nice thing about modern living: We get to choose when to be indoors and when to be outdoors. But it’s very interesting that you never had insomnia sleeping outdoors. Next step: We create a backyard sleeping pod for you! 🙂

    • Mark Darrall says:

      We’re not campers, but when we’ve vacationed on the ocean, we would leave our balcony door open to hear the surf through the night. My favorite activity, even in a resort area like Hilton Head, is to sit on the beach, my feet just touched by the last of the waves as they roll in and out.

      I’ll sit there long enough that I have to move with the tide!

      The day we leave the island is always the hardest. The very last thing we would do is stand on the beach one more time to drink it all in.

      Invariably, I have to fight back tears as we turn our back on Mother Ocean and face…the rest of the world.

      • Mark, you’re clearly a natural! AND I hope you’re getting the sense from noodling around on this site that you can do something about the contrast between your lovely ocean vacations and “the rest of the world.” We don’t have to be victims of our daily surroundings. Once we understand what our bodies need from our environment, we can enrich our cay-to-day environment for much deeper delight. I don’t know how to bring the ocean to the heartland, but I’ve got lots of other tricks up my sleeve, and I love to share them.

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