On March 29, I carried my crockpot full of pulled pork for about 12 into the car, drove the mile to the Wetlands Institute and added it to a table filled with other homemade delights. That evening, husband John and I enjoyed the substantial pot luck suppers they offer offseason for neighbors and friends.
We sat at the table of Dr. Lenore Tedesco, executive director. She and I shared our mutual concern that our ecosystem is kept in a safe harbor regardless of the cost.
Tedesco showed us a slideshow and reviewed the history of this remarkable institution devoted to conservation, education, and research on our marshlands. I loved the photos of friends and neighbors serving on the board or attending events like dinner.
She also informed us of their 50th anniversary, and the community celebration the weekend of June 22-23. Since I had the distinct pleasure of being the chair of the Rubber Duck Race one year, I can’t wait to see what the festivities bring for us all.
I loved the wetlands on first sight around 1986. I wanted to live on them but bought a bayfront home in Stone Harbor because plumbing on the marshes was not ideal, and mosquitoes had taken center stage.
After early widowhood removed me from the island for some years, I brought new husband John to Cape May County in 2014. To my delight, life on the marshes had become an easy and delightful experience with adequate plumbing and spectacular views.
We share our backyard with majestic, snowy white Great Egrets coming to feed from their homes in the trees of the back islands. As they soar overhead and light not 10 feet from our back deck, I am awed by their graceful beauty.
“If I have another life, I want to return as a great white egret," I tell husband John. John just looks at me with eyelids half dropped in that “Yes… I know” look that all partners share.
As I drive from Rittenhouse Square to the beach, I begin to relax. I often write my column looking out at the marshes.
This week, for example, sparrows were guarding their nest from intruders in a tiny birdhouse on our property, and to our right, two osprey circled gracefully in their mating dance, then lighted on the platforms provided for them by their human neighbors.
Surprised at my own delight, I began to ask myself, “What is it about living on the water that feels so special?" And because I know the peaceful ease of life with a view of tall, green grasses, intense sunsets, and quiet, wide-winged neighbors, I became interested in the impact of living in our communities on our mental health.
Taking advantage of my training in following research, I quickly learned that we all live in “blue space” but are often unaware of the impact of the sea, rivers, lakes, and even urban water features on our health and wellbeing.
Blue space? Who knew the term? But of course, we live with sky and water as part of intimate surroundings.
I became curious and learned of Wallace Nichols’ book "Blue Mind." This book shows us how being near, on, or under water can make us happier, healthier and more proficient in our lives.
I looked further and found the research on Devon’s South Coast of England. Professor Michael Depledge founded the European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH) and launched the Blue Gym project.
His team showed photographs of a variety of landscapes to a group of participants. As they introduced increasing amounts of water in the images, people showed a strong preference for more water.
Images with both green land and blue water were most preferred. They conclude, “We found that the closer you live to the English coast the healthier you are."
Professor Sir Alister Hardy has suggested that the big step in human evolution was when they got to the coast and were able to access seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids … there is something deeply profound about water and humans, and it may reflect evolutionary history. I do not know but I do know how it feels to live with Great Egrets and tiny Sandpipers. It feels completely natural.
To consider: Do you know about the access to the elevated walkway over the marshes at the Wetlands Institute? Have you explored the delightful animals and exhibits inside? Have you parked your car to enjoy the view at Benny’s Landing near Stone Harbor? If not, you have a treat in store.
To explore: Wander slowly through fascinating information on the Wetlands Institute's website at www.wetlandsinstitute.org. Your mental and physical health will thank you if you do.
ED. NOTE: Dr. Coche practices clinical psychology in Stone Harbor and Philadelphia. She invites responses through her website, www.cochecenter.com