MDC Director Chad Truxall takes a stroll by the Indian River Lagoon

​Chad Truxall believes that heading outdoors for some fresh air and cautious activity during this time of social distancing has helped ease the tension most Americans have experienced during the Corona-19 virus pandemic.

Even if it’s only to sit in the backyard, walk down the street or to go catch a few waves in the ocean, the executive director of the Marine Discovery Center says experiencing nature can make a big difference in personal peace of mind.

Here’s what he had to say to MDC staff writer Lisa D. Mickey by telephone during a recent conversation:

Q: So many of us are staying at home right now. Why is stepping outdoors beneficial?
A: When we are outside and our senses are tuned in to what’s going on around us in the natural world, we are engaged in the moment. That is something that is harder and harder to find these days. The smells, the sounds, the sights – all of those things contribute to us being focused on the here and the now. I think that’s very beneficial to our overall mental and physical health.

Q: We are social distancing from others, but what are some things we can do to lift our spirits while we wait for the time when our normal activities resume?
A: I like the idea of a “backyard challenge,” where we list the name of an animal that’s commonly found in Florida. We encourage people to look for them and share what they have found on social media. Even if it’s to look at plants in your backyard or to open a window, there’s a lot of life emerging at this time of year. Whether it’s lizards, ants, lady bugs, birds or butterflies, there’s so much to see. We are all certainly surrounded by the moment of this pandemic and we can’t get away from it. It’s everywhere – in the news and in the way we have to operate – but when we look at nature as it emerges during the springtime, we are reminded how our human life has been shaken up. It’s beautiful outdoors and nature is doing what it has always done at this time of year. To me, that’s a helpful way to remind myself that some things are continuing and that we will also get back to a normalcy. It’s a good opportunity to be reminded about our special natural world and how much diversity we have. Let’s take advantage of this moment and pay more attention to it.

Q: So many of the creatures around us have always been there, and yet, we didn’t always take the time to notice them with our busy lives. Now is a little different, isn’t it?
A: That’s exactly right. Now, maybe, we can take the time to get up a little earlier and to just listen. Even if you’ve never really been into birds, listen to their songs and see if you can identify what you’re hearing. You can find bird songs on the Internet. And then, once you know which bird is the one doing all of the singing in your backyard every morning, you might even look up their unique behaviors, courtships or the ways they feed. Some of these birds are fascinating, such as the killdeer, which we see nesting right on the ground at this time of year, and the clapper rails vocalizing in our salt marshes. There’s plenty going on outdoors, including the recent full moon. I would just encourage people to take those moments to go outside because it keeps us balanced and focused on something more than what we’re all facing right now.

Q: Do you see being outdoors as a potential key to our overall well-being?
A: I do. As a kid, I was always playing sports outside — from soccer to skateboarding and eventually surfing and scuba diving. All of those things helped connect me to the natural world more. I always found myself loving the physical exhaustion of exercise. To go for a bike ride, a walk or to go surfing – whatever it is, you just feel better after you’ve spent some time outdoors. The natural world is where we are from and I think we’re tied to our genetic connection to the outdoors. We experience good thoughts, good conversations and euphoria when we’re outdoors. Nature has a way of grounding you and letting you tap into some of your mental thoughts that sometimes you don’t let yourself have when you’re busy. For me, being outdoors offers a reset button every time.

Q: Can you recommend some books about connecting with nature?
A: There’s a fun book by Peter Heller entitled “Kook: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave.” I also love books by Carl Hiaasen and Dave Barry, who are talented and funny authors who write a lot about Florida. I also like “The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv. He’s a child psychologist and looks at nature and its healing power as we are being surrounded by technology. And then you have some classic books, like “The Yearling,” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, about old Florida, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s “The Everglades: River of Grass.” There are also some great 30-minute videos by Chad Crawford called “How To Do Florida.” The video series explores how to camp in Ocala National Forest, how to catch lobsters in the Florida Keys, how to surf in New Smyrna Beach and many other things. He visits places all over Florida and talks about it.

Q: What is something that nature can teach us if we make time to explore it?
A: Probably the biggest lesson that nature always teaches me is humility. It just reminds us that there’s so much more out there than ourselves. It’s big and it can be really detailed. You can go “big picture,” really looking out at the atmosphere, the earth and the solar system, or then you can refine and focus on tiny particles — all the while, seeing how they all connect. When I look at it like that, I see myself as just a part of this giant system and it’s pretty amazing.