I recently returned from a two-day trip across the Chesapeake Bay. With minimal and inconsistent surf the past few weeks, and my inability to sit still, I was desperate for a little adventure. My friend Lindsey Buckman and I made our way across the bridge with little more than a camera and an old pair of binoculars. My intention was to gain a better understanding of individuals in today’s society and their relationship with the Natural World. As I've grown older, I've learned to listen to Nature and the signs it tries to convey to us all. If you learn to refrain from the man-made distractions in today's world, and focus on the ways Nature speaks to us, you realize your place in the world. Watching people, how they interact with others and their surroundings, how they carry themselves, and the strength of their relationship with Nature holds many of the answers to the challenges facing the world today.
Since I was in undergrad, I have been intrigued by the disconnect that has evolved between man and Nature. Nature, in all of its biological and physical forms, is as real as it gets in this life, and it is becoming very apparent that the majority of people in first world societies are losing their connection to that reality. The disconnect has been a slow evolution, and it has therefore gone unnoticed. This past weekend, visiting the Nation’s Capital, the disconnect was even more apparent.
I split the trip into two days. Day one I would spend in D.C., and Day two I would escape to Great Falls National Park in Virginia. I strategically stopped in D.C. first, knowing myself and the anxiety I get in cities, the National Park on Sunday would bring me back to the reality I prefer, and serve as a kind of cleanse and renewal.
My time in D.C. clarified a couple things. I believe distractions are the primary cause for the erosion of our relationship with Nature. That's not to say all distractions are negative. There are two kinds of distractions, those that bring us closer to each other and the Natural World, and those that pull us further away from our connection to everything that is real. In D.C. the later was pervasive. I do not by any means detest technology, without it I wouldn't have had the chance to create The Marsh and you wouldn't be able to read what I have to say, but the advent of smartphones and social media and the extent to which people have become so reliant and, yes, addicted, has removed us from reality. We have created a world so separate from Nature that as we walk around looking for solutions in our phones, computers, and "leaders" (yes, I'm placing "leaders" in the same category, distractions), we are walking past answers that are right there in Nature. Not everyone is going to find the formula for World Peace in the lone oak tree that rests in front of the Department of Justice, but I am saying that if we slow down, listen to Nature speak, and stop trying to control everything, the real world, the Natural World, will reveal itself and our connection to it will begin to heal.
The divisions among people and classes, and the disconnect between man and nature is real, and it is most prevalent in our cities. I spent the day walking around D.C., listening. I saw anger on peoples' faces. I saw a lack of compassion among people that have separated themselves into classes (a result of greed). Extreme wealth beside extreme poverty. Priorities were out of touch with what really matters. I saw the disconnect. The further removed from Nature we become, the further the decline in the health of people, and the environment. What I saw further demonstrated the disconnect we've fostered.
Take what I observed in D.C., and drive 30 miles west of the city, and you'll find you are free from those distractions that have led to the disconnect. 30 miles, that's barely a half hour by car, but the difference in energy, clarity of mind, and public morale would lead one to believe they've traveled an entire continent and discovered a piece of nirvana. The first thing I heard was the pace of time. You can actually hear different speeds of time. If you haven't yet, you haven't slowed down enough, and listened. Nature is on real time. We live our daily lives on a time that is separate from Nature, but, if you take yourself to these places, and open up to them, you will find yourself adjusting to the time difference. Keep listening. Nature talks a lot, and we have everything to learn.
It isn't just in D.C. that the disconnect exists. D.C. is just a place where negative distractions are evident. I've used it here as a representation of the disconnect I've identified for over a decade. Great Falls National Park isn't the only place we can find happiness, peace, understanding, and Truth. But it serves to show that we need Nature, we need quiet places, we need to get back to what is real.
These places show us who we are. They demonstrate that we are not in control and only part of something far greater than any city. They are humbling places, and they have something to tell us. We just need to listen. What I've learned is that place takes two forms. One is physical, the other resides in ourselves, in our soul. Where is your place.
We live in a complex world, and the variables that have led to the disconnect are just as complex. I am still trying to understand the disconnect, and probably will for the duration of my time on this Earth.
Written by W.R. Weiland
Coast Kids is an environmental education program of the Assateague Coastal Trust. Through a hands on, outdoor approach, we are teaching future generations the importance of healthy ecosystems, and connecting kids to Nature. Visit our Coast Kids page for more information.