Outside

 
Reading a self-improvement article is similar to when I’m rooting through my sparse pantry at dinnertime. I start with great optimism, study each possibility carefully, and then hit speed dial for DoorDash after mentally rejecting the amount of effort it takes to combine item A with items C, D, and Z to make something worthwhile. I want the result, I do, but when it comes to self-improvement or cooking, I’m looking for a small miracle. Said miracle being that I have the solution in front of me, and the effort involved is pretty minimal. 
 
Last week I ran across an article with the provocative title, “Want to Live to be 100?”. Instead of clickbait, it was a piece from a national newspaper with input from various experts on longevity. As expected, most insights didn’t have a practical answer and ranged from the near impossible (hit the genetic lottery), to the unlikely (be Japanese), to the you’ve-got-the-wrong-girl (extremely healthy diet, no alcohol, and exercise). But, there on the figurative top shelf at the very back, was an expert’s top piece of advice for a long life-get up early and go outside. Small miracles do happen.
 
I bring this up since it’s June, and June is the nicest week of the year. It’s here, it’s great, it’s gone, it’s hot, there’s a turkey in the oven and where did I put the tree lights? Don’t miss out, get up and go outside while it’s gorgeous, your 100-year-old self will thank you later. Your 100-year-old self will be too busy barricading the bedroom door to keep your ungrateful offspring from carting you off to Costco’s Value Senior Care Center, but we can’t always get the credit we deserve.
 
Before you venture aimlessly into the great outdoors, might I interest you in four apps that are free, and can make your stroll way more of an adventure? These are all designed by scientists, and backed by millions of entries. There are numerous studies out there showing an increase in happiness when we are more connected to the outside world, so why not throw a better mood in the cart with that centenarian goal?
 
The first is Seek, a spinoff from iNaturalist which is a joint project between National Geographic and the California Academy of Sciences. Just take a picture of plants, wildlife, or fungi and it uses image recognition technology to identify what you’ve found. It’s designed to appeal to all ages and includes badges for identification and challenges based on your location. 
 
For more detailed information on the species you’d like to identify, there’s iNaturalist and Pl@ntNet. Both are simple to use, just take a picture and they will come back with a ranked list of results. I did a test in my yard and it nailed common plants each time and consistently ranked rarer plants in their top three.
 
The last app is Merlin Bird ID, a project from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which allows you to identify birds by picture or by their songs and calls. It also has a Bird ID Wizard which helps you identify birds without a picture by asking a few questions about size, top colors, and location. You can also save birds to your Life List so you can document which flying friends you’ve found along the way.
 

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