Discovering nature’s sanctuary

Many Princetonians know Phyllis Marchand from her 14 years as township mayor, seeing her whiz by on the towpath or standing at the podium at council meetings still voicing her dedication to making Princeton a better town. Marchand has always loved nature: the flat earth under her feet, the scattered sanctuaries of flora and fauna.

Ten years ago, Marchand was diagnosed with lymphoma, and since then, her connection to the natural world is moving all the more melodiously, just as she does through life.

On Feb. 25, Marchand will be speaking at D&R Greenway Land Trust’s event, “Natural Healing: the Power of Being Outdoors.” Joining her will be preservationist Edie Howard and horticultural therapist Nancy Minich. VOICES Chorale founder and music director Dr. Lyn Ransom will also perform songs she composed to help cope with cancer.

“There’s a spirituality in nature when people are ill and become more thoughtful about their experience on earth. Physically, nature is awesome and does wonderful things for human beings and, I think, every species,” Marchand said.

“Being outside with nature can be a positive distraction to people who are under stress or in poor health and subsequently provides sensory stimulation – visual, auditory, tactile, scents,” Minich said.

Minich, who is a registered horticultural therapist and landscape architect, works to use the environment as a “healing place of therapy.” Horticultural therapy, she says, originated in monasteries where the monks took care of psychiatric patients by having them work in the gardens to “distract from the ‘demons’ and other delusions.”

“Research indicates that we have an innate connection to plants and animals as we evolved with them as humans. A relatively recent design movement, biophilic design, has emerged from this philosophy. This involves using images of nature in health-care settings, from curtains and furniture fabric to natural looking wood floors and walls,” Minich said. “They also use pictures of nature as way-finding or means of orienting people, especially in assisted living and nursing homes where there may be some memory issues.”

At the event, Minich will discuss this kind of evidence-based research to demonstrate how individuals get well faster when they connect with nature or spend time in a garden.

“There are times when the human spirit needs to experience the beauty, peace, excitement, mystery and connectivity of the natural world,” Howard said. “By stopping to smell the roses, to stand in awe of a beautiful sunset, to delight in the antics of a flock of bluebirds and to explore all the emotions unleashed by the rainbow of colors that surround us, our spirits can absorb positive energy. The uplifted spirit becomes a powerful force that makes each day an opportunity for healthier living.”

Marchand expressed her pride in the amount of open space that has been preserved in Princeton by the town, D&R and other organizations. She finds herself transported when wandering the paths around town.

“It’s amazing. When you’re running Mountain Lakes, you forget you’re only a half mile from the 16-wheelers on Route 1 and suddenly you’re in some magnificent place in the Pacific Northwest. It’s just marvelous,” Marchand said.

Marchand’s favorite local spot is the D&R Poetry Trail, which is lined with the words of many poets. With that, Marchand cited E.E. Cummings – an excerpt she feels encapsulates all the healing nature brings: “i thank You God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.”

About Erica Chayes Wida

Erica Chayes Wida is a writer, mom, and complete zealot when it comes to poetry, paella and globe collections. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, Erica moved to Italy where the seasons and old architecture inspired her journey back to the East Coast. Since then, she and her husband have created a nest egg locally and, over time, developed a rather grand love affair with the town of Princeton. Erica is senior editor at The Princeton Sun and enjoys fulfilling her Princeton affections on a daily basis. | View all posts by Erica Chayes Wida