Williams, a contributing editor at Outside magazine, presents all of this with the zip of a trail runner covering a lot of ground sure-footedly. She’s got the pop-sci presentation down pat — breezy enough to draw in the lay reader, thorough enough to satisfy the expert. She gamely volunteers to be researchers’ human guinea pig, including wearing a portable EEG unit in the woods and looking like a 'shriveled sea urchin.' (At times, though, Williams’s writing pops a little too much for my taste; describing Frederick Law Olmsted as a 'badass nature guru' is pushing it.)
Ms. Williams resists the tendency of so much nature writing towards easy epiphanies, adopting a tone that is, instead, pleasingly puckish. After a day of discerning the desert wonders outside Moab, she mentions with a wink that the science team she’s chronicling retreats not to a cave but a hotel, 'albeit with a fire pit on a roof deck' ... skeptical commentators compel Ms. Williams to weigh the evidence of her case carefully. Is a trip to the woods any better than listening to music or going to a museum? Does nature itself soothe people, or are they simply more relaxed because they’re out of the office? In other words, is 'the nature fix' actually about nature, or is it more broadly about our general hunger to escape from the monotony of our daily lives? Ms. Williams puzzles out the pros and cons, concluding, on balance, that there’s a good case for connecting with nature to extend both the quantity and quality of life. But she cautions against false choices.
Reporting on an international roster of research, Williams explains that growing and green environments not only improve one’s mood, but slow down the aging process and support cognitive functioning on the highest order. It might seem like common sense, but evidently we need to take the idea more seriously ... While Williams does a thorough job of rounding up the science behind the benefits of the wild, her narrative is most effective when she evokes art and metaphor. The numbers don’t say it as well as Wordsworth did: 'How exquisitely the individual Mind...to the eternal World is fitted.'