Nina Fuller, photographer and equine-facilitated mental health practitioner, once asked me during a visit if I’d walk with her to “the bench.”
It seemed like an innocuous enough invitation, so I joined her. We walked with her dogs past the horse and sheep pastures, past a pond, and through the woods. Sun shone between the trees. Dew dotted our boots as we moved towards the back of her Maine property, across a tiny brook, to an opening in the woods.
There sat a blue bench. It looked like it was waiting for us.
The Blue Bench has been a funky Fuller project for a few years. The seat itself was a 35-dollar purchase made on a whim. The placement of it was her acknowledgement that the meadow itself and the walk to get to it were special. [Photo at right shows Fuller with Maddy Butcher, Marsha Craig, and Jack Martin. Read more about Craig and Martin’s work with equine therapy here.
“There’s something about it that resonates with everyone who goes there,” said Fuller recently by phone.
The horsewoman routinely invites visitors to stroll out to the bench. She takes her camera and posts images on her Blue Bench Project on facebook.
As the routine has developed, returning visitors often ask, “Can we go to the bench?” she told me. “There is a healing, spiritual thing going on there. It’s calm. People slow down. I think a lot of it has to do with the walk.”
Indeed, even the folks at the National Academy of Sciences are recognizing the mental health benefits of getting into nature. A recent study noted “reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness” when subjects took a 90-minute walk in natural environment. Broadly speaking, people who experience more nature are less depressed. There was no positive effect when the subjects walked in an urban setting. Read more here.
Scientists note similar mental health benefits from human interaction with animals, especially horses. Read this review of research on kids involved with equine-facilitated learning.
Most of you have animals. But do you have a bench to go to?
“This idea isn’t owned by me. Everyone needs one.” And with that in mind, Fuller ended our phone call. Her dog heard her say the word “bench” 20 minutes ago and has been ready to go ever since.