Within each of us, there is a language we once knew. It bound us to the land, and served as our lens to see and understand the ways of our natural world. That lost language showed us our place and purpose among Nature.
To demonstrate, take some time to reflect on those moments when we’re aware of our presence among the grandeur. We document that moment, often with a photograph, only later to find out that a photograph doesn’t capture the essence of the experience. This is the language of the natural world. Attainable only by our will to let go of our pre conceived notions, pride, and comforts in an effort to open our minds to the universe with hopes that our souls will know when to dance. It’s a language we can only understand by being in that moment and listening to a voice that has the power to briefly take us back to a world that is both familiar, and unknown. It is a primitive world, and one which each of us has the ability to connect with on a deep, and very real level. That voice is our Nature. It is the Earth. It is a world separate from ours, but one that chooses when and where we have the opportunity to step over and into the other side, even if for only a brief moment.
Near the end of this past September I was on my third visit of four in Shenandoah National Park when I began developing a refined perspective that has strengthened my respect for all the wild that makes up our natural world. The lost language revealed itself and it will forever remain with me, residing as a guide along life’s trail of unknowns.
Scribblings of perspective from a campground:
A weather system has moved over the mountain. There’s a steady cold rain tonight that refuses to heed our wishes for a dry camp. Sitting beside the heat of a fire and gazing into the depth of the woods adjacent to what we’ll be calling home for the next few days, I find myself listening to this voice of a separate world that encircles the camp. I’m trying to understand the language of our natural world. It’s a humbling voice I hear, and one that speaks of our relation to it, and how we have segregated ourselves from it. I gaze into the deep forest as a heavy fog begins to blanket our side of the mountain and a falling sun signals the end of a day. Darkness has fallen. And the wild world around me instills a sense of loneliness. As if looking down from the tops of the trees onto my own campsite, I see myself sitting by the fire, contemplating the way of things, the universe, looking out into the woods, comforted and terrified at the same time. I find comfort in my fire, the automobile I used to get here, the best outdoor equipment you can buy, a loving girlfriend, and a liberal cup of bourbon, and at the same time I’m longing to step over and into that other side. My soul burns to escape the world our species has created. I feel restless and want to walk off and into that unknown, because the answers, I know, are just past the last tree I see on the horizon. But then, learning more of the language with each prevailing breeze, I hear the voice, and the forest tells me I should learn a little bit at a time. The time to step across that line and into this other world separate from mine is not now. There is much to learn before we find the end of the trail.
Fire is stoked for a couple more minutes, just long enough to sift through some of the thoughts and questions I have now that this conversation with a forest has come to an end. A tip of the hat to Nature. Always offering advice and giving us the answers we need. I have mine for the moment. Off I head to the comforts of a tent. A new day, new conversations, and new contemplation await. There is much to learn and wisdom to acquire in this quest to understand the lost language of our natural world.
Let’s lend an ear to Nature. I believe she has a few things to say:
I’ve been watching for some time now, your unsustainable ways and overwhelming lust for progress. Progress once represented the improvement of your species’ livelihood through better health, happiness, and efficiency. It now is regarded amongst your fellows as material position, power, and wealth. I suppose I could see it coming long ago. I only wish more of you could have acknowledged the path you were heading on earlier.
Now, you are all beginning to see your faults and how you have given me so much trouble. So, I should at least extend a thank you for acknowledging what you’ve done to me. You attempt to try and heal my oceans by implementing rules and regulations for others, but at the end of the day you continue your habitual practices that seem to contradict your own efforts. Through agendas and the lust for self image, you try to scrub my skies clean of the carbon and airborne pollution with which you plague my atmosphere, only to pump out more carbon and pollution as you go about your life neglecting any conversation with me, simply because you feel you can survive without listening to me. You have developed an army you call environmental, yet, because you don’t want to talk with me (or maybe you’ve forgot how), you use this army as a way to shift the blame of lifestyle habits on others so you can continue with yours and still call it ok.
I will always be here to talk to you in hopes you’ll begin to understand my language. We can work together, and, because we are a part of each other, eventually there will be no other choice but to work together. Once it was said of me that I always win, that I always find a way. I’d refer to such statements as collected wisdom, gained by listening to my voice and learning my language. Set aside the distractions of progress. Your progression is now regression, and it’s keeping us from developing the harmonious relationship we once had. The mental ability of your species developed long ago to exceed that of any other in my biologic community. Use that gift to work with me. Your progress and the tools that stand testament to it will not help heal our wounds unless those using the tools and pushing the progress are doing so while learning my language and believing in my voice. The more distant our relationship becomes, the more difficult it will be to learn my language, and the more convoluted your life here will be.
My ancient forests tell you that time is relevant. My weather speaks of the delicate balance of everything that I am. My seas describe the energy and power needed to ensure our biologic world survives. My mountains and deserts convey my life’s history and offer lessons learned from the past.
Together, we’ve always had our differences, but so too have I with my other living things. Survival of the fittest? Wisest? You once thought for yourself and persevered. You lead yourself and your family. You didn’t put your faith in one man, or one politician, or one group to help see you through life’s challenges. You were capable of learning my ways, and for that you sustained yourself. It was a healthy balance for both of us. That’s all for now. We’ll talk soon.
Understanding The Language Of Our Natural World is the latest contribution to The Marsh and will be available as a three part series over the course of the next three weeks. Inspiration for this piece comes from several trips over the past year to the mountains that lie within Shenandoah National Park. This is perception from the periphery of a campground.
Understanding The Language Of Our Natural World: Part I
It’s been one year since The Marsh was introduced to Assateague Coastal Trust. Since its inception, a prominent philosophy has developed. It is this philosophy, the idea that Nature speaks to us and is here to guide us through the long journey and many challenging roads that we face in this life, that has become The Marsh. One concept in particular that characterizes each piece of The Marsh is the disconnect that exists between people and Nature. It is Nature that is the substance that creates the world we know. If we look at our relation to the natural world over the course of human history, it is quite apparent that the majority of our species has gradually become further disconnected from the very Nature which we are a part. We have evolved in such a way that the current generation of people have lost much of their ability to understand the language of our natural world. As the most technologically advanced species, our modern day conveniences have significantly impaired our ability to listen and learn from Nature. As creature comforts slowly evolve into our daily lives, our ability to immerse ourselves into Nature becomes increasingly difficult. Our problems of today, of the past, and in the future are a result of a lack of understanding the language of our natural world.
Arguably, we are the most intellectually developed species on this planet. Because of this, it should not be a surprise that we are responsible for, on a global level, environmental degradation, extinction of species, religious and political confrontation, and the many other challenges today that stem from one or more of these undesirable circumstances. We call it facts of life. It should be called the unfortunate results of the disconnect between man and his Nature. The power of the human mind and its capabilities in the face of life challenges will naturally result in a multitude of ways to handle those challenges. Some of those ways acknowledge our part in Nature and duties within it and they are implemented in a manor that, with the best of intentions, serves to improve conditions for all parties involved. But the problem today, that which involves the environment, politics, and individual human affairs are a result of too many neglecting a chance to learn and understand the lost language of a natural world. Too busy and tired are we in our efforts to overpower our own devices and create new vices.
This is not to say a mending of our relation to Nature is impossible. We are living in an interesting, and very critical period with circumstances in place that will either improve our species’ connection to the Earth and all elements that make it alive, thrive, and captivating, or be the cause for continued and escalating problems in all affairs political, economical, environmental, and individual. The primary circumstance in place that I believe has a chance to better the world is our love affair with Nature. Nature, since the beginning of time, has always had a mystical allure on us. But today, Nature has a greater pull on our spirit than at any other time in history because our relationship with it has become gradually more distant. That burning desire we have for Nature and all of its splendor is evident in the mass number of people that visit our nations parks each year. It’s evident in our wander lust to travel, explore, and experience this vast world. It’s evident in our media, filled with images of wildlife and breath taking landscapes. Ironically, but ever more pervasive, it’s even evident in our market economy, using Nature and the lure it has on us as a way to sell products and services. Perhaps we want what we feel we can no longer have? Perhaps the wrong folks are more aware of our desperate desire to get back to and understand Nature. Think REI and their efforts to persuade us that a three hundred dollar fleece will get us to the top of a granite outcrop in the Sierras. Think automobile commercials that suggest the latest Jeep Wrangler will enable us to finally “get out there” and explore the rough terrain.
There is a dichotomy in the evolution of our species. Our progress has led to many luxuries that have made it easier for us to put ourselves out there in that world seemingly separate from our own. We have transportation that can get us to the secluded wild places many of us long for. Technological advances are now in place that make adventuring into the wild less of a gamble in terms of our survival in the face of the many dangers that characterize our natural world.
Our present circumstance, with our abilities and knowledge, should not be taken for granted. We are living in a period of history with tools and resources in place that serve to help us relearn the language of Nature by immersing ourselves in it, listening to it, and working with it harmoniously. It would be one of our civilizations greatest failures should we continue to neglect the voice of our planet with so much opportunity for harmonious balance placed at our feet. Long ago the wild of our natural world was something often feared. We once had an instinct, a sense that enabled us to read our physical and biological environment better than that of today. Such an instinct would be necessary for our survival. This ability to listen to our natural world gradually evolved to become absent from much of today’s human race as we discovered a new ability to separate ourselves from Nature and the time with which it functions. A local high school English literature teacher, Jeffery Phillips, summarizes this dichotomous course of human history when he states that “we pass our days inside or in cars or airplanes and miss the rhythms that the natural world used to force on us.” Phillips points out that we were once at the mercy of the many moods of our natural world, stating “you planned your trips around the wind, the rain, and the tides, and as a result were more connected with those natural phenomena than we are today.” Then, our energies were dictated by a fear of the natural world. Now, with all of our advances, we are in a position where we can turn fear into respect by listening to this planet. Nature’s time doesn’t wait. Let’s not mess this up.