Physiological Resonance

Theres a 90+ acre area of river flats about a 10 minute walk from my house. It’s land that is for all intents and purposes uninhabitable – it floods every spring. There’s a road on it and nice access to the Nashwaak River. There are fields on it where hay was harvested. For over 10 years I’ve walked with my dog and ridden my bike down there in every kind of weather. Waded in the river in the summer’s heat and snowshoed across several feet of snow in the winter. I know I haven’t been the only one, I’ve seen lots of locals down there from time to time. Most, like me, respectful of the fact they were on someone else’s land, but some people not so much.

It recently changed owners and when it was up for sale I walked down there and would fantasize about turning into some sort of ‘park’. A place where people could walk, bring their pets, get close to the river and nature. The new owner intends to put cattle on the property and as such they are fencing it all off and the ‘No Trespassing’ and ‘Keep Out’ signs have gone up. They are completely within their rights to do so – I have no complaint with them – but I’m disappointed I won’t be able to go down there any more.

I thought of all this reading an article by Lucy Jones, Pathways in the Urban Wild.

Studies suggest that when people spend over twenty minutes in “urban nature,” levels of two physiological biomarkers of stress—salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase—drop.

…If it’s been raining, and I can smell petrichor—that metallic, ferric scent of the earth after it’s rained—then brainwave activity linked to calmness and relaxation may be triggered. Listening to birdsong rebalances my nervous system. Watching the daisies move in the wind soothes mental fatigue.

…Then, there’re fractals. Fractals are abundant in the living world. From ferns to lightning, salt flats to ocean waves, and, for the purpose of my urban nature safari, plants and trees and sprays of “weeds” that peep through the cracks in the pavement. The deep-green leaves on these plants are fractal, meaning a self-repeating pattern of a shape that varies in scale, rather than being repeated exactly. Once you know what fractals are, you’ll see them everywhere.

Richard Taylor, Professor at the University of Oregon, discovered that patterns with a fractal dimension of 1.3 (most fractals in nature fall between the 1.3 and 1.5 interval) provoked brain waves suggesting a relaxed but focused state. It turns out that the retinal vessels in our eyes are fractal, so when they view a fractal shape, our eye locks into place, so to speak. Taylor called this “physiological resonance.” We often forget that humans spent 99 percent of our evolutionary history in contact with the natural world, and there may be a genetic disposition within us to prefer fractal shapes, like Savannah-type shaped trees such as acacias, as well as landscapes with prospect and refuge and water sources. When it feels relaxing to look at these sprays of weed in the cracks in the pavement, it’s partly a response to an inherent genetic memory.

On the news this morning there were discussions around the rise in calls to doctors, therapists and associations for mental health assistance since the start of Covid-19. This should come as a surprise to absolutely no one. I myself have come to the conclusion that the best thing anyone can do in these uncertain times is to keep themselves as physically AND mentally fit as is possible given the circumstances.

People living on the sharp end of nature deprivation are not given fair opportunities for stress recovery, restoration, and relief from mental fatigue that connection with the living world offers. The way land is owned and controlled is connected to who is allowed to feel the deep joy and calm of being with wild things.

…I experienced this recently while paddling and swimming in one of our favorite nearby rivers. It was a scorching hot day, and we’d taken a net out to look at minnows and admire the banks, sequined with turquoise damselflies and cellophane-winged dragonflies. I was hoping to see one of my favorite emergences: pearlescent mayflies on their one day of life on earth. We walked to a stretch of river I’m attached to, spotting swallows and hearing the sound of the cuckoo on our way. Swimming in this bend of river became an essential place of healing for me during periods of postnatal depression over the last few years. Alongside clinical help, being in the cold water, among the poplars and kingfishers, was sometimes the only thing that could ease some of the psychic and hormonal storm.

While we were sitting on the banks, an angler arrived and told us we couldn’t be there, that the river was “private fishing land,” leased to a local anglers’ society, and we were forbidden from being in it or on the riverbanks. The bailiff might be around, and he had a dog, he said.

Later, I confirmed that this river, the main river in my town which stretches out into the countryside, is indeed leased to a private fishing club (fewer than 80 people), so the townspeople (110,000) are not allowed, legally, into it. I’ve been back once, but I stood still at the water’s edge: held back by a feeling of shame and the discomfort of being in a place that is not meant for you.

I have plenty of other places I can go for walks and ride my bike – literally stepping right out my door. I will not want for lack of places to seek some physiological resonance.

Where I live is already decidedly more rural than Ms. Jones’ locale but her article has reminded me of something I’m always trying to keep within reaching distance of my day-to-day experience, and that is there are a lot of people that simply don’t have access to ‘the Outside’ in the way I do and can’t access it with the ease that I can and I remain extremely grateful for that.

Lapse of Laughs

I directed an ill-timed joke at the stands of my hockey practice last night from the ice. I realized, to my horror – after it landed, that I’d no way to know right-away where it’d landed since everyone had masks on. DO NOT construe this as anti-mask, because it’s not. I 100% support the mask situation as it stands. It was just a ‘whoah’ moment for me in terms of adjusting to the universe at large in this moment.

My Time on the Internet

Just a few days ago I deleted my last remaining social media account – well almost, more on that later* – leaving this blog/website as pretty much the defacto ‘source of me’ on the internet. That got me thinking back to how long I’ve been ‘on the internet’ so I tried to put together a little timeline. It’s been an interesting exercise. It’s by no means 100% accurate. I’ve used a number of sources including this blog itself, The Internet Wayback Machine, emails and my scattered memory. I think it’s pretty close though. I dare say the folks at places like Facebook, Google and Twitter could probably give me some ridiculously accurate stats.

1994ish – Opened my first and only AOL account.

1996 – Registered lyh.com and built a website for a house of people I lived with. Registered and built personal website thebukitzone.com.

2000 – Apple launches MobileMe which would eventually become iCloud/Apple ID. I started an account then and still have it.

2005 – Opened my first Gmail account [Gmail launched 2004]. It was Invite only then. I think I got an invite from a buddy. This was my first Gmail address. Moved my personal website at thebukitzone.com from HTML to WordPress.

2006 – Twitter – Launched this year, I opened an account, was the first ‘social media’ account I ever had.

2007 – Opened first Flickr account [Flickr launched 2004]. FriendFeed launched. I had an account, never really used it. In 2009 it was bought by Facebook.

2007 – Opened first Facebook account. [Facebook launched 2004]

2008 – Opened a Plurk account. Closed the same year. Switched to another Gmail address, my second one.

2009 – Registered kentfackenthall.com which basically replaced thebukitzone.com

2009 – Opened a LinkedIn account. [LinkedIn launched 2003]

2011 – Opened GoodReads, Instagram [Instagram launched 2010] and Tumblr accounts. Google+ launches. I was on right away and stayed pretty much till they shuttered it in 2019. Closed Twitter account.

2012 – Closed my LinkedIn and Tumblr accounts. Opened a Strava account.

2013 – Registered and built website at bikecommutercabal.com. After a few years transferred ownership to another. Ran Facebook, Google+, Instagram and Twitter accounts for Bike Commuter Cabal.

2014 – Left WordPress as my blog platform for Blogger for a hot minute (maybe a month) quickly returned.

2015 – Opened Ello and Ride with GPS accounts. Closed Strava and first Flickr accounts.

2016 – For most of the year, shuttered my website and redirected my domain to my Google+ profile. Opened Medium and Behance accounts.

2017 – Opened second Flickr account. Opened a Mastodon account. Lasted a week.

2018 – Closed Facebook account. Kept Facebook Messenger. Closed Ello, GoodReads, Medium and Behance accounts.

2019 – Closed Facebook Messenger. Registered and built website at correctiveactionbicycleclub.com. Opened Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts for the Corrective Action Bicycle Club.

2020 – *Created a new Facebook account for work only. Not public, no friends, no posting. Strictly to manage client accounts/pages/advertising. Closed second Flickr account and personal Instagram account. Switched from Gmail as main email provider/app to my own domain mail and Apple Mail. Brought correctiveactionbicycleclub.com under umbrella of this domain, then eventually offline. Closed CABC Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Random takeaways

  • 24+ years on the internets
  • 15+ different social media platforms
  • 15 years hacking and whacking on WordPress
  • ~600 blog posts (I’ve deleted some for various reasons)
  • Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were platforms where I had multiple accounts at the same time, i.e. personal and a club

What a long, strange trip it’s been. I think I’m done with social media now. I say ‘think’ because the reality is that I still have the Facebook account for work and I could see a possible argument for having others if my job came to require it. I’m doing my best to avoid that however. I can see very well that I’m going in the opposite direction with this compared to most of humanity. I have to admit that I’m kind of looking forward to ‘going retro’ here and just getting back to writing blog posts again. I’ve been reading through old ones and they make me chuckle. In a lot of cases, past me was an idiot.

Bottle Blonde

So, my oldest kid came over this weekend and it seems she’s landed in that phase of life that many of us have – the one in which we choose to throw off the bonds of our natural hair colour and experiment. That sent me looking at old photos of myself from one of these phases – of which there were a few. It would seem that apple landed somewhere near the tree. Important items of note in this photo;

  1. I still own the flannel Abercrombie and Fitch shirt I’m wearing in this photo – and I was actually wearing said shirt the first time I met my wife. That it has lasted through the volume of abuse and substances I’ve thrown at it should make A&F proud, a testament to their knowledge of fine stitchery, or at the very least their ability to sub-contract some. The t-shirt I’m wearing was one of a limited edition of three hand screen printed by yours truly. Though most people found it humorous at the time, it is a simple print of one line of text that would surely get me kicked off the island, cancelled and blocked and reported now. It most certainly makes me ineligible for higher public office or a Supreme Court seat. I have no idea where the other two are.
  2. The gentleman next to me is not on Instagram, is currently a commercial star of considerably minor repute living in Hollyweird who would serve as the best man at my wedding.
  3. Finally, those of of my generation-ish should stop for a moment and consider the significance and ubiquity of the venerable Solo Cup in your past. Chances are, it’s been there with you through some of both the worst and the best times of your life. I can think of few things that upon sight alone could universally generate such a mind flood of flashbacks and cold shivers that is both enrapturing and gut wrenching at the same time. Grab one today and just hold it for a minute and see what appears in any one of your mind’s eyes. Maybe have a Tums ready as well.