For the past few weeks clients, friends, and students have spoken to me more often about their concerns for the fate of nature. Our regionally very mild winter and early spring have raised their concerns about climate change. The oil rig disaster in the Gulf has raised fears of nature polluted beyond her capacity to recover. Earthquakes around the world have underscored the tensions that underlie daily life, and the threat that these tensions will erupt in devastating ways, at home, in society and in nature.
One of the challenges of the Gulf oil spill is that it has occurred in one of the most productive ecosystems in North America. The Gulf is an immense collection of habitats, that, taken together, provide breeding grounds for most of our country’s ocean life. The region has abundant boundary zones, the areas where two or more ecosystems meet, and that are generally the most robust and diverse biological regions. Think about the interface between forest and meadow, salt and fresh water, sea and land. These areas often teem with life in great diversity.
Our family home sits within one such zone, a highly populated area adjacent a large, forested park. In front of our house, the world is suburban. In back, the world is rural. A cross-country path runs along the base of the hill that marks the end of our small back yard, and the beginning of the densely treed park. Along either side of the path song birds defend their territories.
Dogs, people, and foxes traverse the trail year round. I understand that bear and moose may have made very rare appearances, although not in the years we have lived here. When we first moved in, our cat wandered constantly from the front of the house to the back, as if trying to decide whether he preferred urban or rural life. Now, if indoors, he rarely visits the front. Of late, we have been visited by at least two foxes, who come by separately a couple of times during the day. Both seem to be interested in the birds and squirrels that utilize our feeders.
When a grandchild visits during warm weather we open windows on the back side of the house, allowing fragrances, sounds, and breezes to waft in form outside. Babies and toddlers respond well to stimuli from the natural world, usually relaxing and becoming quite happy. It is as though they feel at home among sensations generated by the non-man-made world. Much recent psychological research seems to support this notion, even going so far as to suggest children raised in contact with nature are emotionally healthier, and cognitively better developed. They also appear to have a greatly reduced likelihood of developing attention deficits or hyperactivity.
Adults, too, benefit from exposure to the natural world. A walk in the woods, time spent watching the sky, or an hour gardening can all evoke a sense of connection and peace. Young people and adults from many cultures and times have ventured alone into nature, seeking to understand life, and often, hoping to find relationship to the spirits. Yet, one does not always have to go into the wilderness to find solace and meaning, often time in a park will do fine.
I encourage people with whom I work to seek out moments in nature. Often, a walk on the beach or time in the forest opens us to connection with ourselves, our lives, and joy. Time in natural settings acts as an antidote to heartache, depression, and fear. Time with nature reminds us of our place, here, in this world, and our kinship with all life, with all that is.
Now, as never before in the history of our species, the very nature to which we turn for insight, inspiration, and healing seems in peril. Although we North Americans spend, on average, a tiny amount of time in nature, we seem to know, intuitively, that our fate and the fate of nature are intertwined. Fear and despair call to us. Yet so does nature. Nature invites us to seek relationship with her, to do what we can to nourish and protect her, and to find solace in her. She encourages us to remember that she will be here long after our species has passed.
A walk in the rain, through a field, or along the river reminds us the world is as it is. Things have gotten to this place through the actions of many beings. We are not permitted, as individuals, to fix all that needs repair. We are only given the opportunity to do what we are able. In order to do so, we must be present to things as they are. In order to be truly present we must limit the influence of fear and despair. Nature, if we allow it, will help us see them as just psychic weather, and bring us solace. Then we must do what we can to aid her.