Beyond the Four Walls

The transformative power of nature and local places to immerse into

by Aaron Falls / Garnet & Black

“Don’t you know that sunshine don’t feel right when you’re inside all day?” - Mac Miller 

A being in nature for at least two hours per week has substantial psychological benefits

Most of us have probably spent more time inside over the past year than we have in our entire lives. Some introverts like myself may have found reprieve in being able to seclude from the outside world and just chill in our bedrooms alone for hours on end. Our more extroverted counterparts may have been pushed to the brink of insanity due to the lack of human contact and boredom. Even I, a natural loner who was quarantining before it was cool, have to admit being trapped inside these four walls feels claustrophobic sometimes. The warm rays of the sun tease my skin as they seep through my blinds. The birds merrily chirp in the sky and relay secrets back and forth. The lush greenery across the street seems to stare through my window and chastise me for not taking advantage of the free oxygen it’s providing. These four walls, sturdy and withstanding, create a barrier between myself and the natural world.

I didn’t cultivate a real appreciation for nature until recently, last August to be specific. That was when my girlfriend convinced me to go hiking for the first time. Before that, I was never really the outdoorsy type. Unnecessary sweating was for the birds. Gnats and mosquitos were my worst enemy. I didn’t know what to expect, but this experience was beyond cathartic. As my girlfriend and I trudged up to the peak of a mountain through dirt, branches and rocks with giant trees looming overhead, I felt completely at peace and in the moment. Nothing else mattered except the next step I took. All the petty problems that bloomed from spending so much time alone in my head dissipated and I was worry-free. When we finally reached the top of the mountain and I was able to look out at what seemed like the entire world, a bliss I had never felt before washed over me. All at once, I felt both minuscule and powerful. 

Since then, I have hiked numerous more times in different states. I’ve been to a couple of national parks, a few state parks, and several nature reserves. Each time I have felt a similar sensation of inner calm and wonder as I roamed through the foliage, sometimes with my girlfriend beside me and sometimes alone. There is something majestic about being immersed in nature. I always find myself captivated by the beauty of it. It forces me to become grounded in my body instead of my head. I have never encountered a miserable person on any of my excursions -- there’s a communal atmosphere amongst nature enthusiasts. Smiles, waves, and head nods are normal exchanges. Whenever I’m feeling fuzzy or overwhelmed, a simple walk on a trail is extremely therapeutic.

Aaron Falls / Garnet & Black

President Theodore Roosevelt acknowledged the transformative power of nature to help him heal from the simultaneous passing of his wife and mother. According to a study that appeared in Scientific Reports (June 2019), being in nature for at least two hours per week has substantial psychological benefits, including but not limited to lessening feelings of isolation, reducing anxiety, and promoting an uplifted mood. The best part is - it’s completely free and simple. While going with a partner is intimate and a great bonding experience, embarking alone is just as beneficial in connecting yourself with nature and improving your mental. The next time you feel exasperated inside, here are a few local places to go to clear your mind.

Congaree National Park

Not many people know that South Carolina is home to one of the 63 National Parks in the United States. It's a little more understated than bigger, more recognizable national parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone but I think that's apart of the appeal. Only a half-hour drive from Columbia, this park is a great destination if you've never been hiking before and would like to experience the gorgeous scenery of a National Park.

Cayce/West Columbia Riverwalk Park

This is a place I often go to run, but it's my go-to spot for a nice stroll when it's warm too. There's two different directions you can take (I usually take the right route), and both immerse you into an abundance of trees and a wonderful view. of the Congaree River. This is overall just a great and scenic park to get some steps in. Usually moderately crowded with dog walkers, families, joggers, and bikers, but that just makes the experience more communal.

Timmerman Trail

If you're looking for something a little more inconspicuous and in the cut, I would recommend Timmerman Trail. Right on the outskirts of Cayce, this trail is ideal for an immersive walk or jog in the woods. With several different paths to take spanning 3.5 miles, Timmerman is a relaxing, low-key trail that is in the heart of nature.

Poinsett State Park

This state park is ideal for going with a partner or a group of friends. With scenery that includes fascinating plantlife, hills, and waterfalls, there are several different trails you can embark on that will make you forget you have a phone for a few hours. In addition to the trails, there are plenty of group activities to do such as canoeing and camping. Less than an hour away from Columbia.

Swan Lake Iris Gardens

If you are a bird and/or plant lover, this is definitely the place for you. At Swan Lake Gardens, you can take a stroll around a wide lake with great scenery and observe eight different species of swans in their natural habitat up close and personal. There is also a botanical garden in the park if you're into that sort of thing, too. Located in Sumter less than an hour from Columbia, Swan Lake Iris Gardens is worth a trip.

These are just a few of the places I've been to in and around the Columbia area. There's a plethora of options can choose from that can be garnered from a simple Google search of "nature places near me," including but not limited to small local parks, state parks, forests, trails, gardens, and reserves. Here are a few more options that are in the Columbia area that I have not personally been to, but I'm sure are just as immersive as the aforementioned:

  • Harrison State Forest
  • Sesquicentennial State Park
  • Dreher State Park
  • Saluda Shoals Park
  • Granby Park
  • Riverbanks Botanical Garden
  • W. Gordon Belser Arboretum
  • Peachtree Rock Heritage Preserve