By Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson, Curator of Botany
During the pandemic, many people have experienced increased stress levels due to illness, work difficulties, and isolation. But many of us have discovered there is solace to be had in the natural world. In 1984, biologist E.O. Wilson noted that “biophilia”, or a “love of nature”, is a normal part of human psychology. We don’t just love nature; we need it for optimal health. A growing body of research has found that spending time outdoors, bringing nature indoors, and even experiencing it virtually improves health. It reduces chronic stress and accelerates healing. Even now, in the midst of winter, there are ways that we can de-stress by enjoying nature.
Spend time outside
Visiting a local park or natural area can improve your mood and boost immunity. Urban parks, such as Assiniboine Forest and Living Prairie Museum, are easy to get to by car or bus. If you can travel further abroad, skiing, snowshoeing, and winter hiking are ways to enjoy the province’s forests and prairies. And, even though our world is covered in snow, some plants can still be identified. Evergreen trees and shrubs retain their cones and don’t lose their leaves. Even deciduous woody plants can be identified by closely examining the leaf scars (places where leaves grew) on the stems. Relaxing post-hike activities might include sketching or painting (take pictures to help you remember what you saw) and writing about your experience in a nature journal.
Bring nature indoors
Growing houseplants is a great way to beautify your home and create a Zen-like space to relax in. In addition to their beauty, houseplants are known to remove organic air pollutants, like benzene and formaldehyde, released from carpeting and furniture.
Before getting any houseplants, assess your home’s light and humidity conditions. Note especially what direction your windows are facing. North- or east-facing windows are suitable for plants that need low or filtered light, such as Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera spp.) or Weeping Fig (Ficus spp.) trees. West- or south-facing windows are good for succulents like Aloe (Aloe vera) and Burro’s Tail (Sedum morganianum). Some tropical plants, like
Staghorn Ferns (Platycerium spp.), need to be situated near a humidifier or misted regularly to do well.
Remember to buy only greenhouse-grown plants, not poached from the wild, as this behaviour is causing the endangerment of rare species, like orchids and cacti. Raising cuttings from your friends’ houseplants or participating in plant swaps are great ways to grow your collection sustainably, and it can save you lots of money, too!
Enjoy virtual nature
Psychological benefits can be obtained even from “virtual” nature. Viewing paintings of natural landscapes, nature documentaries, and Virtual Reality (VR) programs can induce feelings of peacefulness similar to being outside. For a more three-dimensional experience, consider a stroll through the Manitoba Museum’s galleries, where time is “frozen” in life-like dioramas that depict some of Manitoba’s most beautiful landscapes. The new Prairies Gallery also features a realistic wall projection depicting the four seasons on a pristine grassland.
Learn more about wild plants
Greater health benefits can be achieved by connecting with nature more deeply and using multiple senses. What do the plants feel like? Are the leaves smooth or covered with fuzzy or stiff hairs? What do they smell like? What sorts of animals interact with them? You can learn more about the characteristics of wild plants by studying field guides or checking out websites such as iNaturalist or the Manitoba Museum’s Prairie Pollination virtual
exhibit (PrairiePollination.ca). When you are ready to go hiking again, you’ll know which species you’re seeing and which are safe to touch or taste.
Taking the time to disconnect from our gadgets, and reconnect with the natural world, can be a highly beneficial addition to our self-care routines.
By Scott D. Young, Planetarium Astronomer
Why are people fascinated by the stars? Perhaps because we see ourselves reflected in them. The rotation of the Earth defines our days with the rising and setting of the Sun. Every culture throughout history has drawn its hopes and dreams in the night sky, developing its own constellations to help track the seasons. These cycles have defined the human experience throughout time, and the sight of a dark, starry sky still evokes wonder and awe.
The Manitoba Museum Planetarium is a space theatre, but really, it’s a starting point, a gateway to a life-long enjoyment of the natural world around us, with encouraging and enthusiastic guides to help you along the way. Planetarium visitors begin a friendship with the stars, which leads to a better understanding and appreciation of their place in the universe.
The Planetarium helps make science accessible and immersive, something you can do instead of something you hear about online. Manitoba Museum Planetarium visitors have gone on to win international science fairs, make astronomical discoveries, and even become Canadian astronauts. It’s not really about learning to find the Big Dipper – it’s about learning that the universe is predictable through the tools that science gives us. The Planetarium reminds us all that we can be active explorers of an amazing universe that is all around us and that we all have a role to play in its preservation.
Throughout history, people worldwide have looked at the same stars we see tonight, seeing the same Moon, the same planets. The sky truly is universal in its appeal. The stars bring people together. Across Manitoba and around the world, when pandemic restrictions shut down most events, the pastime of stargazing exploded in popularity. People were outside in socially-distanced groups or their household “bubbles,” looking at the constellations, tracking down the planets, watching for meteors and northern lights.
Pictured, right: [email protected] fans, Sébastien and Geneviève, learned how to explore the sky from their own backyard.
The Planetarium experienced a temporary closure early in the pandemic but quickly developed a way to bring our content online. Virtual field trips to the Planetarium started just three weeks after the closure, with schools connecting remotely to our DIGISTAR planetarium system. Our weekly astronomy show, [email protected], began in January 2021 and still runs live Thursday evenings. [email protected] provided families in isolation a way to explore together and be under the same stars at the same time.
Now the Planetarium has re-opened its domed theatre, eager to see the enthusiastic faces of visitors! The Planetarium will launch a brand-new feature show beginning December 26, Magic Globe. This full-dome experience will take you on a journey to explore the seasons as you never have before.
When you purchase tickets to the Planetarium, you’re not only embarking on an out-of-this-world experience, you’re also supporting the educational programming, events, and experiences that have been engaging Manitobans and making memories since 1968.
To really feel the vastness of the universe, sometimes all you have to do is look up. You can see some amazing sights from your backyard, but to get the best views you may need to travel a little. At Expedia.ca, we love getting lost in the beauty of the cosmos. When we learned that The Manitoba Museum’s Planetarium offers tours of the night sky in the planetarium show, “Live with the Stars,” we were inspired to find the best places and ways in Manitoba to witness the galaxy at its most glorious.
Stargazing is the greatest perk of visiting the great outdoors after the sun sets. Winnipeg has many wonderful parks in which to spend time after dark. Assiniboine Park is open 24 hours a day, and offers large light-free fields for great sky viewing. Other city parks close for at least part of the night, but provide a good view of the early evening sky.
Even better views are available farther from the bright lights of the city. Spruce Woods Provincial Park offers camping areas, so you can pitch your tent and stay all night. A spring-fed pond rests in a grove of spruce, providing a perfect canvas of reflected starlight. Nicknamed the Devil’s Punchbowl, it’s ironically the ideal spot to view the heavens.
At Beaudry Park, you may have unexpected fellow viewers. Owls, beaver, fox, and white-tailed deer are abundant in this forested prairie. Bring a canoe and paddle the Assiniboine River. Listen to the gentle water currents as the universe slowly spins overhead.
Feel like you’re within reaching distance at Birds Hill Park, where the viewing tower on Griffiths Hill will get you just that much closer to the sky. Ideal if you plan to bring a crowd, fully serviced campsites for groups of over 50 are on hand. Bundle up, settle in, and let the starry spectacle take your breath away.
Northern Astronomy in Churchill
Churchill enjoys some of the best views of the aurora borealis, or northern lights, on the planet. Vivid and intense, the northern lights are on serious display in this part of the country, which is located directly under the auroral oval. Because of this, the town is well equipped to offer premium viewing. Spectators can find heated viewing pods, observation platforms, and panoramic windows. Independent travelers can go it alone, but there are also guided tours for a deeper learning experience.
With aurora activity occurring more than 300 nights a year, there are plenty of opportunities to witness this fantastic spectacle. The perfect combination of a clear night, solar activity, and a prime viewing spot will leave you with the most brilliant display of vibrant purples, yellows, and greens.
Making Wishes in the Wilderness
There’s one big rule when trying to spot meteors: the darker the better. Get out of the city to cut light pollution for the clearest possible view. The liveliest showers are the Perseids during August, and the Geminids in December. While on dark nights you should be able to see at least a few meteors any time of year, these active showers provide more opportunities to wish upon a falling star. In the early evening, you generally see fewer meteors but they often stretch across the whole sky. After midnight and in the pre-dawn hours, the number of visible meteors increases, usually peaking just before dawn. A clear, moonless night from a dark location will offer the best views.
Whether you’re out for casual stargazing or on a mission to see aurora borealis, Manitoba has it down to a science. To prepare for your stargazing adventure, don’t forget to head to The Manitoba Museum to learn about what makes it all possible.