In Southern Illinois, and I suspect other communities as well, we complained about a long, cold, winter; we whined about a cool, rainy, extended spring; and now, it is summer, glorious summer. What do we do? Close the windows, turn on the AC, and turn on the TV to catch summer sports.

Something’s wrong with this picture.

Granted, there are many reasons someone might want to separate from the great outdoors—allergies, mosquitos, ticks, heat, risk of melanoma from sun, noises from cicadas and mowers and loud motorcycles. But the list of reasons to engage with nature is much longer.

I have a friend that I will not call out by name, but she knows who she is and anyone who knows her will recognize her. She loves her garden so much she gardens into the darkness of the summer evenings. Often. She gardens in random neglected spaces to beautify our community. Now that’s love.

When I’m in my garden in the evenings, the best part is chatting with friends and neighbors who stop and visit. Would they walk up to my door and ring my door bell and ask if I wanted to visit? No. But they will stop and visit when they see me in the garden–funky gardening outfit and all!

This evening, at the Liberty Theater in downtown Murphysboro, we have a chance to stroll along Walnut Street, mingle with friends, and enjoy two concerts–Russian Chamber Music and Jazz—at the Liberty Theater and later, in the outdoor Town Square Plaza, sponsored by the Southern Illinois Music Festival and many local sponsors. Grab a friend or find a friend along the way and enjoy this local event.

Last evening I mingled with some folks I knew, some I just met, and some I haven’t seen for years, and when they asked, “What have you been up to, I haven’t seen you?,” I had to stop and think. I guess I just go from my house to my office and run my little circuit of errands. Now that it’s summer, I need to change that. I’m thinking bocce, and contra dance, and salsa dance classes—with friends!

When I do go off my circuit and meet up with friends for a concert or a long conversation at a winery or a walk at a state park, I am reminded there is more, much more to life than browsing channels on TV or Netflix or Facebook or YouTube. Save that for the long, dark evenings of winter.

Recently a local citizen posted a flyer about an outdoor program hosted by the Murphysboro Park District and the Shawnee National Forest to introduce youngsters to the sights and sounds, clues and thrills of the forest. At the time of the post, the sign up was zero. Unfortunate.

Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods documents the ill effects of the decreased exposure of children to nature. He contends that direct exposure to nature is essential to health for adults and children. I agree.

Researchers have even documented the benefits of exposure to dirt in childhood for the immune system. (Click here to learn more.) I think back to the way I raised my children and think, Thank God!

Talk to any child (and the parents) after a week of a great summer camp and you will see that while living and playing in a community in a natural setting, children learn What Matters Most. In Southern Illinois, we are blessed with many outdoor summer experiences for children. Many are free or have scholarships. Go online and find one that appeals to the youngsters in your family.

This summer, let’s step outside, grab a friend, make a friend, step up and ring a friend’s door bell, sit on the porch and have a glass of iced tea, slow down, tell a story, listen to understand, Stephen Covey – 7 Habits … and be more like our very own unsung hero, Marie McCormick, by bringing along a bag to pick up the trash we see on the walk (instead of just complaining about it being there).

We are blessed in Murphysboro with some excellent outdoor spaces inside and just outside the city limits, Riverside Park with the dog park created by Friends of Murphysboro, Town Square, Smysor Plaza, restaurants with outdoor seating, and just outside town, the beautiful Lake Murphysboro. They are safe, secure, clean and available, thanks to our city and state employees. This is the sweetest time of year. Let’s celebrate the great things about our home town instead of complaining about things that aren’t quite perfect.

(This week’s article is short because I need to get outside and pull some weeds in the garden!)