Musings on Politics & Policy

An attempt to take an open minded view of current topics,
strip away excess detail and arguments,
and get at underlying issues —

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

One With the Earth

A depth of feeling about the land and the environment around us comes from immersion. In the so called modern world, people have become too isolated from the natural environment. Many have become immersed in cultural or technological phenomena and relate to those rather than to the natural phenomena of the world. Sara Stein has documented this in her books beginning with "Noah's Garden" [1993] and culminating in "Noah's Children" [2001]. Those who have a deep feeling for the natural world were most likely exposed to it with positive interactions in their early years. They may have also been immersed at a later age or studied it in school. What a person sees is shaped by what they understand and believe. When a Republican Congressman refers to the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge as "barren wasteland", it says more about the inner workings of that Congressman's mind than it does about ANWR. The same is true when President Bush denies global climate change in the face of overwhelming evidence and world opinion.

Humans can accomplish much through technology. They cannot disconnect themselves from the natural world. Human populations have grown exponentially for a long time, and their impact on the world has been magnified by technology. Repeatedly, people have thought that some aspect of the natural world is too immense to be over exploited or damaged. Repeatedly, they have over exploited and damaged. Then they deny it, they reject the evidence of science and their senses, because they have little experience appreciating and understanding the natural world.

One who understands sees much just looking out into their own backyard. Seeing the southern bird that once never came this far north, they see climate change. Seeing fewer migratory warblers than in decades past, they see tropical habitat loss. Seeing fewer butterflies than in decades past, they see widespread over use of pesticides. Seeing invasive introduced plants, they recognize a threat to nearby natural environments. On the positive side, one who understands can see a transition in plant species along a hike and recognize a glacial erratic that has changed the underlying soil chemistry and increased local plant diversity. Seeing a tall tree they see the equally large inverted tree of the underground root system and the cycling of nutrients from the soil to the tree to the leaves and back to the soil. They see leaf litter, brush piles and stone walls as locally increased habitat diversity for small animals and native insects. They see themselves connected to and dependent upon the natural world and they take joy and appreciation in it.

The Native Americans had an appreciation of the earth that most of us have lost. The "centuries-old Haudenosaunee philosophy that all major decisions of a nation must be based on how those decisions will affect at least the next seven generations" grew from "centuries, if not millennia, of wisdom about the earth, about the fruits of the earth, and about human settlement over time in any particular part of the earth" [the Next Seven Generations]. We shun this wisdom at our own peril.

Regaining this knowledge and feeling requires some immersion. There is no simple recipe, but there are many ways to begin. Turn off the television and go for a hike. Look closely at the things around you. Try to see all the differences you can between two plants. Take a course in plant identification. Read "A Sand County Almanac" [1949] by Aldo Leopold. Talk to others about nature. There is no particular path or destination, only a journey that stretches generations into the future.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly agree with what you've written in your blog. I too believe that in this modern world we often forget our natural roots and it is impertative that we re-establish ties that were cut long ago. Congratulations on finding a media in which to convey this very important message, and for love of nature do not give up this fight.

December 10, 2004 at 3:27 PM  

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