Happiness. Inspired. Encouraged. Comradery.
Words like these come to mind every time we have conversations – about Nature.
Whether it’s during a presentation, on the trail, or around a fire. Be it over howling grasshopper mice, ancient grizzly bear trails, or hot blood coming out of the eyes of horned lizards (it actually comes out of modified vessels near the eye lid), everyone is genuinely uplifted when amazing natural history tales are passed around.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Why do people really enjoy learning new things about Nature when nearly every other topic of discussion these days seems to be a hop, skip, and a jump away from a brawl?
No Flag in the Ground
First, people don’t seem not to have established deeply held, emotional opinions about Nature. When someone learns that what they thought was true about some aspect of Nature is completely wrong, they often laugh, celebrate how Nature surprises, then ask for more. We always have lively, happy discussions in our Chaparral Naturalist classes about how plants make oxygen (it comes from busting up the water molecule; carbon dioxide has nothing to do with it), how, when asked to draw a flower, most people don’t draw a flower at all, but rather a sunflower (which is actually a cluster of tiny flowers), or that really huge, hot, “so-hot-it-melts-metal” hot, once-in-a-century-wildfire is the perfectly natural pattern for chaparral.
You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who gets their dander up and starts an argument that degenerates into questioning your heritage when you share with them that their belief about touching wild baby birds is wrong – it doesn’t cause the babies to be abandoned by their parents. Put the baby bird back into their nest the next time (if you can find it)!
Nature Accepts All
Secondly, Nature defines acceptance. Nature doesn’t care about our looks or backgrounds. All have an equal chance to enjoy life, to hear the sounds, to smell the fragrances, to feel the gentle breeze. The rhythms of life continue to flow regardless of our age, wealth, or identity. We are beautiful in Nature because we are allowed the freedom to define ourselves rather than being defined by societal expectations.
Nature has nourished us for millions of years. Nature feels good because it’s where we came from, where we evolved, where our senses emerged. Nature is our home, our hearth.
In short, Nature provides common ground where everyone can feel welcome.
Freedom to Enjoy Life
Finally, Nature allows us to escape the fantasy world we have created within our minds, minds that seem to be increasingly being pushed into two divergent war camps; neither of which are anchored in reality; both of which are fraught with negativity and angst.
On the right, we have the view that Western Civilization is on the verge of collapse due to the destruction of morality, facilitated by socialists who are trying to take our freedoms away. Get your guns; load up on gold; estrange any who don’t feel the same. On the left we have the view that Western Civilization was, and remains, an oppressive force that contributed nothing to the world other than slavery and greed. Apologize for all its sins at every opportunity; replace science with stories that please; estrange any who don’t feel the same.
Then we have the rest of us who have realized life is a pretty special thing. We have fun celebrating the remarkable journey our species has traveled without fear or regret. And we do so knowing that whatever problems we may face are not because of any one group of us, but are rooted within our hubris as a species. The problem is Homo sapiens, not the tribe over in the next valley. We’re all in this together, driven by the same instincts that form a basic, common template for how we react in the world.
This is what Nature can help us understand, if we listen.
And no matter how self-righteous or self-important we may feel, the manzanita, the spadefoot toad, and the red harvester ant go about their business, every day, oblivious to our existence. Tomorrow you may be gone, but the ants will keep on harvesting. Don’t waste another second on what you can’t control.
What Can We Do?
Take our Chaparral Naturalist class. We have a unique program that helps you not only learn about the fascinating world of Nature, but about philosophy, how to think logically, and how to defend yourself from all those unimportant distractions that try to keep you from hearing the sounds, smelling the fragrances, and feeling the gentle breeze. Sign up. We start the first week of March. If live to far from San Diego where we teach our program, we’d be happy to help your group set up a Chaparral Naturalist course too. We have a weekend workshop available that’s a wonderful experience.
Learn about Nature on your own. There’s a whole natural world out there waiting to meet you, privately. Buy a few guide books. Tear out the geraniums; plant a few native plants. Of course, it helps to have a Nature coach with you who knows the bird calls, some of the plant names, and the difference between gneiss and schist. So, when you’re ready, take a bird watching walk with the local Audubon chapter, a hike with a natural history museum naturalist, or a guided tour of a nearby nature preserve. Ask questions. Breathe again.
Talk about things that inspire others to learn more. At your next dinner party, talk about Nature, philosophy, Roman history, the books you’ve read. Chattering about disasters, political controversies, outrageous behavior, tires the soul — unfortunately, it’s also genetic. Early humans who were able to recognize danger, focus on it, and respond quickly had a survival advantage over those who did not. Take an active step in the next stage of human evolution; make a conscious decision to celebrate life. By all means, stop at the red light, swerve to miss oncoming traffic. But time spent gossiping and expressing your opinion about the latest crisis only increases stress-hormone levels in your and everyone else’s blood stream. But imagine going to your next party, sharing your excitement over learning something new, like how the Roman Empire embraced cultural and religious diversity (as long as you embraced Rome), was a place of incredible opportunity no matter who you were (the son of a slave could be, did become, emperor), and that one of the most common symbols of Roman power (and contributing to the species name of the most common shrub in the chaparral) is on both sides of the rostrum of the US Congress (extra points if you figure it out).
“Well now, that was a most interesting party!”
Regain control. Understand that the doom and gloom we are fed has no impact on your daily life. If you do let it impact your day, it’s a choice, it’s a capitulation of your independence, handing over your joy of life to institutions that have only one interest in mind, their own. Everything is catastrophized to grab your attention, not to reflect reality.
Look away from the train wreck. We’ve been taught that we should be an informed citizenry. OK. But realize most of the sources of information out there now are more interested in agitating you than providing accurate information. So, allocate the time you use to stay up to date, wisely. Don’t let the dopamine addiction that tech companies have figured out how to use cause you to waste your precious hours. Walter Cronkite is gone. When comparing new sources from the 1960s to today, nearly all of them now favor attention-getting bias instead of objectivity. Stay away from partisan information sources and question everything, especially if what you hear confirms what you already believe.
Stop using social media. Besides wasting precious hours, every time you look, every time you post a picture, every time you “like,” every time you comment on a social media site, you are increasing the effectiveness of one of the most socially destructive profit machines ever created. Ah, but you say, “I just post photos of my vacation and ignore all that political stuff.” Don’t be a tool. Facebook et al. are using your information to make money, increasing their power and the power of all the disruptive forces in the world that have figured out how to use you, divide the country and the world, turning all that bad news they feed you to actually become your daily life. It’s costing lives. Just stop.
Start every morning with Nature. Listen to the birds as they greet the new day, searching for breakfast, singing to lovers, family, and competitors. Smell the morning air. Look out at the world. Celebrate how fortunate you are to experience yet another sunrise.
Watch ants more.
Photos: Desert campfire, Killdeer baby, Exploring Anza-Borrego (photo by Kathy Jones), Leaping into Saline Valley, Enjoying another turn of another day in the eastern Sierra Nevada.
Category: Reconnecting to Nature, Social Change, Value of Native SpeciesTags: bias, Chaparral Naturalist, Facebook, Nature accepts all, news media, Roman history, Walter Cronkite, Western civilization is good, Women's March