Have you observed that most children, by nature, are naturalists? When I’ve watched children, I’ve often noticed that they will pay close attention to the details of the natural world: a little plant or animal, a dandelion, or an ant hill. We adults might say, “Look, an ant hill,” and by naming it, we walk on – we dismiss it from our thoughts.
What would a child do?
There seems to be a trend today that allows people to believe that scientists will give us all the facts we need to know about Nature. Much of our “environmental” education involves no contact with plants and animals. Students may watch videos, memorize how many legs a spider has, or learn that biological diversity is being lost in some remote rainforest. I know some kids – and no doubt, so do you – who spend more time in front of a computer monitor than in direct contact with Nature. Not to mention adults!
I know, I know – I’m sometimes guilty of it too.
But the spontaneity and unpredictability of the natural world are never communicated to us in this “virtual environment.” What we get is Nature being sold to us as an economic system, as part of a great machine. Regrettably, our links to the land, and to our childhood, become disconnected.
Each of us is capable of making valid observations about how the natural world works. We have all, at one time or another, been inquisitive children. It’s been said by contemporary anthropologists that we need everyone to behave as naturalists, to observe and judge whether the ecological processes around us are working. I have read of Mark Plotkin, an ethnobotanist, who has said, “conservation is too important to leave to scientists alone.”
Our environment is wherever we choose to live. It is not an isolated scientific topic, but a unifying and fundamental theme across all disciplines – from botany to winemaking, from manufacturing to consumer purchase habits. To be aware of how the environment underpins all human pursuits is to learn how the world works and how there are wonderful lives being lived very near us, and all around us, even in our own backyards. It’s time we stepped back outside, into Nature’s living room.
Taking a walk in the wild – even our own backyards – can enrich our lives. It costs very little for the well-being that is gained. Those moments can provide an escape from the craven virtual environment – an escape that can further enrich us when accompanied by an awareness of the place we choose to live. It’s more than knowing the names we give to things – it’s bearing witness to the relationships those things have to us and to each other. In microcosm, it’s about living in, and recognizing our effect on, the present moment in the natural world. In macrocosm, it’s about the legacy our human society will leave to the future.
Our thoughtful stewardship of the land, this Earth we call home, is often perceived to be our fundamental obligation as humans. Why? For the sake of ourselves and our children. And our children’s children.
It is not outside the realm of possibility and imagination to believe that we have the power, collectively, to sustain and perpetuate the quality of life on our planet – our only home – to enrich the lives of our children, and of all species yet unlived.
Take a moment to think about that. How important is it to you?
Be daring! Vow to take the rest of your lifetime to rediscover the child within, and to rediscover your role in the life of Planet Earth. Take that first step to connect, or reconnect, with the wild lands. Take a hike!