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.