Today (at least here in the US) is Earth Day, a day traditionally used to inspire and motivate people to lighten their environmental footstep. Chances are, your social media and blog post feeds are filled with advice on how to “live greener”, causes for activism, and a variety of other tips. We’ve all heard and read about all the things we can do to make a difference. This is not another one of those posts.
Instead I wanted to write about the way I think will lead to positive change: how to get to know nature.
In my experience, if you know something or someone, you are emotionally involved and you CARE about what happens. You might see a lost cat poster and feel sad, but you continue about your day. Yet if your own cat goes missing (or child, if you are more in the camp of human children than furry creatures), you will be more deeply affected and go out looking or make calls or post notices. You might read about a wild area being developed a few towns away, but it makes no difference to you. Yet if you played hide-and-seek there as a child and picnic there with your family, you might show up to the planning commission meeting and share your voice on opposing the project.
While I have no psychological training, I’m going to say you have different reactions because you are emotionally connected and involved. I think thats what our earth needs; more emotional connection between the people and the spinning rock we call our home. We don’t need more advice on how or what to recycle because our landfills are filling up, we don’t need more news stories about sea otters dying in oil spills. We need more intimate relationships so we care and these things don’t happen in the first place.
Wether by nature or nurture, I have always loved the natural world and have always felt an deep connection with our Mother Earth. I sum it up to growing up in the middle of nowhere without electricity as an only child: nature was always there, and therefore became by constant companion. I know nature. Nature is a friend. And because of this, I care. This is what drives me for every single choice I make every single day. How are my actions affecting my friend?
But not everyone has made these connection, Mother Earth may still be a stranger to you. And that’s ok, she’s always willing to make new friends.
Here are a few of my tips to get to know your earthly surroundings:
Get outside. This could be an open space preserve, a state park, a local park, a garden, even a well designed parking lot landscape. Spend actual time outside. Once you are there, sit or walk, it doesn’t matter. But get outside. Put your phone away. If you can’t sit still or need “something” to do, write or draw on actual paper.
Look, Think. Look carefully. What kind of things do you see? Journalling is always a good way to capture what you observe. Too much to focus on, or don’t know what to look for, start with this: How many shades of green can you count? Actually try to count them. Why do you think some are lighter than others? Are there similar leaf shapes or sizes in the same shade? Do you have any objects or clothing items that match one of the shades? What other colors do you see? If you were a bird, what leaf would be best to hide under when it rains? If you were a bug, what leaf looks like it would be the yummiest to eat? If you were an animal that lived in this area, where would you go to get water? Where would you sleep? What kind of animals do you think stood in your same spot?
Give things names. Knowing= caring, and names help that. Learn the names of local plants and animals in your area. If you see them again, refer to them by name. If you aren’t sure the correct name, make one up. No idea what that little brown bird is that you see in your garden every morning and the one that pecks at your car side mirror? It might be a towhee, but you could call it a “long tailed mirror bird”. Ever plant has a botanical and a common name; consult books or a local naturalist for the correct name, or make one up that has meaning to you. For years, I knew the weed Dock as Indian Tobacco, because I heard once that the native people smoked it. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know the correct name, but I had a name and being able to identify it made me more connected with the place I was in. Give places within places a name. If you have a bench you sit on during lunch break, give it a name. A favorite section of a regular hike? Give it a name. Notice what it is like in those areas: what you see, hear, smell, feel. Is that similar to other places? When out and about, do you see or feel similar things as that place? Listen. Sit and just listen. How many sounds can you hear? If you are in a wild space, your list might be long with bird calls and wind. How many different birds are making those noises? Do you think its a large bird or a small bird? If you are near civilization, your list might include people or sirens. How might the sounds change based on the time of day? What do you think it sounded like 20 years ago? What will it sound like 10, 20, 100 years from now? Notice. If you are in an area long enough, check out where the sun sets each day. Where is the last place to get a beam of light? What is growing there? What is the first flower to open up in the morning, or the season? Make mental notes. Look to see if that flower grows in other peoples yards or in other wild spaces. Do you think it opens the same time? Repeat. Often. Very few of us can become forever friends with someone by only meeting once. Get outside and critically observe. Regularly.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts” — Rachel Carson