April 2013 Health Beat

Karen’s Kolumn is written by Karen Dolley, R.N. and Grange Friend… we appreciate her knowledge and her willingness to share!  This month’s column is provided by Vic Morin of the JD Foundation.

The JD Foundation created the Connecting with Spirit program to give people the opportunity to come together, form community bonds, exercise their bodies, and to take advantage of the natural healing effect that nature has on the mind, body and soul.

Think of what has happened to us as a society over the past few centuries  the movement from a rural lifestyle to one where most of us live and work indoors with little or no contact with nature. Studies indicate that the lack of exposure to sunshine, fresh air and hands-on contact with the outdoors negatively impact those suffering from depression. A sunny day may do more than just boost your mood  it will also increase your levels of Vitamin D and adequate levels of Vitamin D have been linked to less depression symptoms, as well as a reduced incidence of osteoporosis and several types of cancer. Having suffered from depression off and on throughout my life, I know first-hand how important sunshine, exercise and contact with nature are to mental health.

The JD Foundation is located on an interval between the Piscataquis River and the Kingsbury Stream, providing a beautiful location for some of our walks. Standing under a 200-year-old oak tree along the shores of the stream, gazing upward through its outstretched branches, allows the mind to wander, and wonder, at what that tree has seen during all those years. We walk those same shores in the spring as the wildflowers make their first appearance and in late summer when the mushrooms explode from their underground homes on warm, rainy days.

Each fall, we hike to Little Wilson Falls after a heavy rain to experience the rushing water tumbling 45 feet into a gorge lined with towering walls of moss-covered slate. Each winter we do a walk to Houston Brook Falls, frozen solid in the below-zero temperatures. This allows us to walk to the outlet stream and stand touching the frozen falls while rushing water is visible beneath the clear blue-tinted ice. Experiences like this help put day-to-day troubles into perspective and restore our sense of awe. In conducting these walks, we are sharing the gifts that I and other volunteers have experienced over the past 50 years spent in the Maine woods.

Since our initial snowshoe walk on New Years Day three years ago, we have been able to see what a great affect these outings are having on those who participate. We have witnessed introverted people become more outgoing through sharing these experiences with others; seen those who knew nothing of the flora and fauna in our area now yearning to learn the names of wildflowers and birds; and most importantly; we have seen the amazement of young people after spending time in the woods  some for the first time in their lives.

To date we have conducted 55 walks averaging 10-12 persons per walk, accomplished through volunteer efforts, and donations from people who believe in what we are doing. As a leader on these walks, I feel that this effort shows our dedication to making a difference for those who suffer from depression, and for those who now have a safe, healthy alternative to remaining cooped up indoors all winter, which could lead to depression.

Our walks have included two men in their 80s, children as young as 2, and everyone in between. Everyone benefits from these walks, and we will always include all ages groups, but we do want to do more walks specifically for school-aged children. We feel that there are many benefits to working with this age group beyond just the mental health aspects, such as exercise to combat Maines rising obesity epidemic, and establishing that vital spiritual connection to all living things in the young people who will grow up to be the stewards of our forests.

The JD Foundation
107 Main Road
Abbot, Maine 04406


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