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Endangered Animals

Man, is it easy to get caught up in the tedium of day-to-day life. My days, in three words?

Drive. Type. Eat.

The key to breaking out of that monosyllabic monotony is to have something else, a passion that distances you from the daily grind, if only for a few minutes a day. It can be as simple as quality time with family or friends or as nutty as collecting handcuffs, but you gotta have something. If you happen to be somebody who’s not sure what that “something,” that passion, should be, allow me to suggest one: Getting back to nature.

There are studies suggesting we feel better when we’re surrounded by nature, such as this one that even specifies which aspects of the natural world are most restorative (water bodies and flowers). But the surest proof of it can be found within – I defy you to stroll through your nearest park, paying attention to your surroundings instead of the little nags in your brain, and not feel better.

I previously wrote about a study that said most of us would like to get out to nature but just don’t find the time. But when is there ever time for anything, unless you make time for it?

For me, the real invigoration comes not from the land itself so much as from what lives there. Observing wild animals – whether spying on a hairy woodpecker as it knocks around a maple tree for bugs to snack on, or catching a glimpse of a red fox slinking across a forest trail – focuses my perspective, somehow making me feel smaller and affirming my place in this world all at once. It just makes you feel good.

And it’s now more pressing than ever to get out there, to learn and to maybe somehow help, with a new study saying we are on the verge of an “extinction crisis.” The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List names 1,141 of the world’s 5,487 mammals – more than 20% – that are at risk of disappearing, largely due to loss of habitat.

The trouble with these lists is that many of the most highly touted animals are exotic, making it less likely to hit home for Americans. But there are plenty of U.S.-indigenous mammals on there too, from Nelson's Antelope Squirrel in California to the Red Wolf in North Carolina.

The point is we take it for granted, this immense diversity all around us, and we ignore it. And in so doing we’re complicitly saying to the developers and the polluters that eradicating habitats and poisoning the water is OK.

But if we take time to appreciate nature, to get involved even just a little, we’re saying it’s not OK that we’re losing this diversity (at least 76 mammals have gone extinct since 1500, the IUCN says) and we learn to cope better with our everyday hassles while helping ensure our kids get to do the same.

Here are some places in Captivate markets where you can reignite a passion for nature. (In case you absolutely cannot get outside, the next best thing is The Encyclopedia of Life, the brainchild of renowned naturalist Edward O. Wilson.)

Locals please suggest more places by submitting a comment below.

Atlanta Cascade Spring Nature Preserve (it’s big and relatively unmonitored so it’s probably best, if you’re a novice, to go with friends), Olmsted Linear Park (especially the Deepdene segment)

Boston Allandale Woods, Mass Audubon’s Habitat Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary, Boston Nature Center

Chicago Gompers Park Wetland

New York Central Park Ramble, Queens' Cunningham Park, Staten Island’s Long Pond Park Preserve

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“Endangered Animals”