Do nature walks improve creativity?

Saturday, October 14, 2017
We've all heard stories about inspiration and creativity coming from natural surroundings. Einstein, Dickens, Jobs, Darwin and many other geniuses walked to improve creativity, and it worked. But my question is, where the heck did they walk? Because to be honest, when I take my dog, Nana, for a 30-minute walk, my creativity/writing does not improve.

Normally I think during my walks, but when I would get home, couldn't recall anything I thought about. That's when I decided to try to capture the thoughts that crossed my mind, so I had to pay attention, and this is what happened on the first few seconds as I jogged/walked up the hill from my driveway. My mind raced past all the deep thoughts about the meaning of life to "What color I should paint my kitchen cabinets, some sort of gray, I think, but dark? Will it be too dark?"

Obviously, that's not working, or helping my writing. Focus, Mary.

After I got up the hill, I spent the next four minutes trying to figure out who was that one guy in that one movie. Turns out, I don't remember. And then I saw a squirrel walk across someone's porch. Nothing.

I also told myself that maybe I'll have better luck when I get to the "nature" section of my walk. It worked for Thoreau, right? I hurried along to the place where the walking trail parallels some wooded common ground, and the pedestrian bridge crosses the creek. Lots of nature there.

As I turned right on the trail, I stopped as my dog sniffed an invisible clue to the universe. At that moment I saw a red and white striped umbrella sticking up from a glass patio table on the back deck of a neighbor. And that's when it it hit me, the question we all want to know (insert angel chorus here): "Where did stripes come from?"

Ok, not the greatest scientific question, but it's a start. And the original answer comes from nature, which also is the original idea behind the interconnectedness of all things, because I was now on the trail right next to NATURE! This is obviously working. And if you are interested in stripes, I did look it up and there are some interesting facts, especially if you consider symbolism: think criminals, prostitutes and court jesters, which I may be able to use later. Here's a link:

I knew then I was on my way. After calming down about stripes, it happened again (angel choir encore). A squirrel ran across an empty retaining pond. I know it doesn't sound like much, but I couldn't help but notice the difference between the way the squirrel walked across the porch earlier, and how the body and tail of this squirrel formed these little arcs or waves as it sprinted.

I think I may have something here, so I looked up squirrel tail waves when I got home and got a lot of hits about waves and physics, which included algebraic equations. I also found information about how squirrels "wave" with their tails, usually a warning sign that they are annoyed. And most of the other wave stuff was about water. Nothing about the kind of squirrel arc/waves I was talking about.

So while Einstein has his theory of relativity, I now have the theory of squirrel arcs/waves. I can't explain it mathematically, or relate it to anything that matters, like proving life on Mars, or that time exists, but I might be able to use this in my writing.

So, thank you, future Nobel Prize committee for recognizing my discovery of squirrel arcs/waves, and the use of stripes as symbolism in literature. I couldn't have done it without paying attention during my walks.

Mary Horner is the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing, and teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges. Her story "Shirley and the Apricot Tree" is being published this month by Kansas City Voices.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Somebody--was it Pearl Buck--who said that many of their ideas came to them when they were washing the dishes.

Congrats on the short story publication. (The title really intrigues me.)

Sometimes I make some headway by walking and talking... Talking to someone who's a fellow writer. Talking about the project and the obstacles and plans. Often, you know more than you think you know, and just the act of talking it out can unearth things...

Cathy C. Hall said...

If I take the Tiny Terror out for a walk, it's all I can do to walk her, much less think brilliant thoughts! So kudos to you, Mary, for walking the dog AND thinking up fascinating stuff at the same time!

Nadia Giordana said...

I was thinking maybe the dog is the distraction to focused, creative thoughts. I walk alone.

Donna Volkenannt said...

Hi Mary,
This is another great post. Now, you have me curious about squirrel arcs.
I find inspiration for writing when I'm out at our place in the country. There is something about being out in nature, watching squirrels gather nuts or turkey vultures floating in the sky. Seeing those vultures makes me wonder how a bird so ugly can be so graceful--and they are graceful gliding on the wind.
Congratulations on your publication in Kansas City Voices. I look forward to reading it!

Angela Mackintosh said...

There's a squirrel party in my backyard every morning and they frequently wave their tails and scream warnings when they see my cat. :) There are a lot of old trees where I live and nature trails, so I go trail running at least four times a week. When I have a problem figuring out where I should take my writing, I turn off my headphones that are always blaring when I run (I know, not very natural) and listen to my breath and nature, think about wording. It totally works!

Congrats on your publication in Kansas City Voices, Mary!

Mary Horner said...

Thanks for all your comments, I think everyone can be creative regardless of their environment, but I do think nature does something to our brains if train ourselves to pay attention!

Sioux, I think talking to other writers does help us identify some of our issues, and helps resolving them.

Cathy, I don't know about fascinating, but it was kinda fun!

Nadia, I like to ride my bike alone, which also helps. I feel too guilty to walk alone because my dog loves to walk so much!

Donna, I love the way you just described vultures, and think there is a poem or story there! And congratulations to you on your essay in Kansas City Voices!

Angela, I love the image of a squirrel party! With all this nature talk, it sounds like a writing retreat is in order!

Anonymous said...

It's all about the story and you found one in your walk, Mary Horner. It made an interesting blog post that your fans, including myself, enjoyed. When I used to walk my dog, he noticed every little sound and substance on the walk. It helped me to be more observant, but a mindful meditative walk without a pet is definitely a different experience. In fact, through walking and writing my blog, I was able to write my first book, Fire Up Your Profile For LifeWork Success. Here is one of my walking experiences, Enjoy your day whatever it brings.

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