Following tracks left by American marten in the Kenai Lowlands can be a great way to experience the outdoors in winter. (Photo by Andy Baltensperger)

Following tracks left by American marten in the Kenai Lowlands can be a great way to experience the outdoors in winter. (Photo by Andy Baltensperger)

Refuge Notebook: Contact with the natural world benefits our well-being

I read in a recent newspaper article how even a brief contact with the natural world, or nature, can benefit our well-being. Researchers found that just hearing a bird sing, or seeing trees and the sky, was enough to boost one’s mental health. Other research has shown how contact with the natural world can lower blood pressure and improve other aspects of a person’s physical health.

Contacts with the natural world can also change a person’s philosophy about life. I just read a book titled “Zulu Wilderness: Shadow and Soul” by the late South African game ranger, later turned world-renowned conservationist, Ian Player — who helped save the white rhinoceros from extinction. Most of the book’s storyline takes place in the formerly Umfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa. It is about Player’s forty-year friendship working with Magqubu Ntombela, a native Zulu game guard, whose life was closely in touch with the natural world and how their friendship changed Player’s outlook on life. Player subsequently started the Wilderness Trails program in Umfolozi in 1959 and told how many of his trail clients’ exposure to the natural world during just three or four days often beneficially changed their outlooks on life, especially the importance of maintaining natural places and wildlife.

I identified with many of the places mentioned in the book because my family and I were fortunate to spend time in Umfolzi. I participated in the live capture of two white rhinoceros and observed other wildlife there in the early 1970s while conducting research on leopards in South Africa.

I mention these stories on the health benefits of contact with the natural world because I often I think how fortunate we are on the Kenai Peninsula to have the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and other public lands nearby, so close that many of us can reach them in less than an hour. We have many opportunities to experience nature here in our own preferred way to help us cope with today’s increasingly complex and stressful lifestyles.

I also think of these advantages when I see commercial ads in magazines enticing people to come to Alaska. I realize that many people are willing to pay thousands of dollars to come here, even briefly to experience its unique natural environment, an experience many of us can have any day of the year and too often take for granted. Although we do not have rhinoceros, lions, and leopards, we have their counterparts with moose, caribou, Dall sheep, mountain goats, bears, wolves, lynx and wolverine. Many people are willing to pay large sums to see these species, perhaps only once in their lifetimes.

Moreover, I also believe one does not even have to observe wildlife to experience their presence. One of my favored winter activities is hiking on frozen lakes on the Kenai Refuge after a snowfall to observe tracks of wildlife. Tracks, unlike a brief visual observation, may reveal where a moose and her calf selectively browsed twigs on shrubs along the frozen shoreline or perhaps where a red-backed vole defied danger and traveled across a bay hoping to reach safety on the other side. Tracks may reveal where a lynx came stealthily by, closely hugging the shoreline, perhaps with the hope of surprising an unwary snowshoe hare for a meal.

If extremely lucky, one may observe where a pack of wolves crossed a lake — find their beds where they lay curled up to rest in the snow or where they chased each other in circles like frolicking dogs. Sometimes one may encounter the trail of a river otter where it alternately loped then slid, making long furrows in the snow as it crossed the frozen lake.

Following tracks of wildlife in the snow can be just as rewarding an experience of nature as a brief or distant wildlife visual observation. Moreover, it is a unique experience that one can only have during the winter, perhaps the most peaceful time of the year.

Dr. Ted Bailey was supervisory wildlife biologist at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge before retiring in 2001. He has lived on the Kenai Peninsula for over 40 years. Find more information about the refuge at or

More in Life

Powerful truth of resurrection reverberates even today

Don’t let the resurrection of Jesus become old news

Nell and Homer Crosby were early homesteaders in Happy Valley. Although they had left the area by the early 1950s, they sold two acres on their southern line to Rex Hanks. (Photo courtesy of Katie Matthews)
A Kind and Sensitive Man: The Rex Hanks Story — Part 1

The main action of this story takes place in Happy Valley, located between Anchor Point and Ninilchik on the southern Kenai Peninsula

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
Chloe Jacko, Ada Bon and Emerson Kapp rehearse “Clue” at Soldotna High School in Soldotna, Alaska, on Thursday, April 18, 2024.
Whodunit? ‘Clue’ to keep audiences guessing

Soldotna High School drama department puts on show with multiple endings and divergent casts

Leora McCaughey, Maggie Grenier and Oshie Broussard rehearse “Mamma Mia” at Nikiski Middle/High School in Nikiski, Alaska, on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Singing, dancing and a lot of ABBA

Nikiski Theater puts on jukebox musical ‘Mamma Mia!’

This berry cream cheese babka can be made with any berries you have in your freezer. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
A tasty project to fill the quiet hours

This berry cream cheese babka can be made with any berries you have in your freezer

Minister’s Message: How to grow old and not waste your life

At its core, the Bible speaks a great deal about the time allotted for one’s life

Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura and Stephen McKinley Henderson appear in “Civil War.” (Promotional photo courtesy A24)
Review: An unexpected battle for empathy in ‘Civil War’

Garland’s new film comments on political and personal divisions through a unique lens of conflict on American soil

What are almost certainly members of the Grönroos family pose in front of their Anchor Point home in this undated photograph courtesy of William Wade Carroll. The cabin was built in about 1903-04 just north of the mouth of the Anchor River.
Fresh Start: The Grönroos Family Story— Part 2

The five-member Grönroos family immigrated from Finland to Alaska in 1903 and 1904

Aurora Bukac is Alice in a rehearsal of Seward High School Theatre Collective’s production of “Alice in Wonderland” at Seward High School in Seward, Alaska, on Thursday, April 11, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Seward in ‘Wonderland’

Seward High School Theatre Collective celebrates resurgence of theater on Eastern Kenai Peninsula

Most Read