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Why do introverts like the outdoors so much?

I started wondering about this because of a basic misunderstanding. Someone once asked me if it was hard being agoraphobic when we were taking a walk in the forest, gesturing at the millions of trees in a manner that may have been used on the battlements of Dunsinane when predicting a sudden attack of Shakespearean Triffids.

“I’m not scared of being outside,” was my response (although wanting to add that now I had the Burnham Wood thing in my head, I might very well start). “I just don’t like people.”

I wouldn’t call myself an agoraphobic, as it happens. I pretty much grew up in wide open spaces – I was one of those kids who never wore shoes and was fairly indistinguishable from the colour of whatever piece of scrub I’d been lurking in all day. But being aware that agoraphobia is different from person to person, I was rather forced to admit that yes, I had it, the bit of it where large concentrations of people in confined spaces sometimes gives me the wiggins.

Nature, on the other hand, makes me feel comfortable. Yes, even the bits with howling rivers and tree branches that might snap and snakes and spiders and thunderstorms and cliffs and huge breakers on the beach and rabbit holes you can break your ankle in. You’d get me on a windy cliff edge before you’d get me in front of a roomful of people hanging on my every word. (Sadly, that’s not wholly true – I don’t live near any cliffs and I sometimes have unfortunate blips in my job where I have to get on my hind legs and bray like a donkey. The other people in the room call this training. I call it torture.)

So why is that? I like animals, too, even the ones that look nice and turn on you suddenly (cats) the ones that see enemies everywhere and make noise accordingly (dogs) and the really heavy ones that see you as a convenient leaning post while you’re trying to do their nails (horses). Nature is deceptively simple. People who have a hankering to “return to nature” or “return to the land” are often thinking of this sort of simplicity – living hand to mouth, keeping it simple. Tough, backbreaking, but simple.

The thing is, though, I said ‘deceptively’, because nature is actually astoundingly complex. Ask a biologist or a chemist. It’s logical (sometimes) intricate (most of the time) and quite unbelievable (all of the time. You know when someone says “you can’t make these things up”? They’re quite often talking about something brilliantly weird nature has turned up, like those lizards that look so much like dead leaves you wonder how they don’t end up in salads at McDonalds).

Maybe we like the outdoors so much because it’s like us – deceptively simple on the surface, really damn complicated underneath.

Plus, trees don’t tend to give you backchat, unless you’re Macbeth. Always a good thing.

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