Leaning back and feeling held: what time in nature means to Alison Carroll
In 2014, Alison and Jay Carroll co-founded Wonder Valley in California’s Joshua Tree. Here, the olive oil they lovingly hand-harvest is the foundation to everything from nourishing skincare products to perfect recipes. Dividing their time between the east and west coast of the US, this couple lives a life where ‘health is a priority and olive oil reigns supreme.’ And as Alison reveals, nature is the key:
What’s your favourite thing to do in nature?
Moments after a plunge in our front yard cove here in Maine, I can’t think of a better activity in nature than swimming in salt water. It’s an entirely different experience to swimming in quarries or lakes or pools, and it’s wonderful shared with friends, or just solo. The sense of clean I feel after an ocean swim is inimitable, particularly here in Maine’s bracing cold and briny waters. It’s cleansing for my skin but also for my emotional state: like a slate being wiped down with a wet rag. I’m currently seven months pregnant so this swim has become an especially beloved daily ritual for me.
Describe your connection to nature: what positives does it bring to your life?
We’re extremely fortunate to live between two places: the high desert of Joshua Tree where our home abuts the National Park, and this small island in Maine where our beach shack faces a working fishing waterfront. By design, we work from home and for ourselves, running Wonder Valley as well as a number of other projects and businesses. This can mean a lot of time spent on Zoom and Slack, and being in nature is the instant detox to all that screen time. Nature is a space that allows me just to be, to discharge any angst. I feel the way it feels to be in my body, how my feet sound on a trail, and the pleasure of heat coming off a rock in the sun after a swim. The world can feel incredibly unstable, and nature is the place I can fully lean back and feel held.
What are your fondest memories of spending time in nature?
There’s something otherworldly about a mossy forest hike, whether it’s in Kyoto or here in Maine. That wattage of green, the way sound can be muffled and muted from all that velvety cushion underfoot, and the smells of pine and fir trees. It’s a feeling I chase.
Many of us are time-poor and might not get out into nature as much as we’d like. Any suggestions for a quick nature-based pick-me up? Something sensory, experiential…?
I lived in Philadelphia for ten years before feeling magnetised to live in quieter places and moving west, so my access to nature then was not the same embarrassment of riches I have now. But “nature” doesn’t have to mean an epic forest or beach or desert. Riding my bike through the city, feeling wind on my face at night, or a good tree and soft grass somewhere is enough. The experience of picking and growing food is especially interesting and exciting to me. A few hours at a small farm picking in-season fruit is a pretty exceptional way to spend some time, with delicious rewards afterwards. Or growing some herbs in a window or on a deck is also an easy check-in that can happen daily. As a regular, easy ritual involving my hands and plants, I like growing herbs that can be used for a relaxing pot of tea.