For the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day: Renew Respectful Connections to the Natural World

“Perhaps as we are forced now to pause from our normal routine and the connections with our human communities, we can take the time to explore and rekindle new connections to nature and the life we share this planet with.”

-David Burke, Ph.D., Vice President for Science and Conservation, Holden Forests & Gardens

I am an ecologist and conservationist by training and inclination. I am prone to review and consider nature and my connection to it regardless of circumstance. But in this time of uncertainty and social distancing, I find myself taking greater comfort in the rhythm of the natural world that is all around us, whether we live in the country, suburbs or city. Because although in many ways it feels as though the world has come to a rather sudden stop, in fact is has not. Despite the dire news we read, and the fear we experience for ourselves and our loved ones, it is spring. And the world is waking up.

Like most of us I am sheltering in place with my family. And one of the few outlets during the day is a walk – or two – outside. I can tell you that although these weeks of sheltering in place has begun to wear thin for me, our two dogs have come to appreciate the new routine. After all, the dogs live in the moment, and spring is a time of new sights, scents and smells, as the world comes alive after a long winter. And for those of us with two legs, this time may be an opportunity to slow down ourselves and be more in the moment. To notice.

Even though spring is just underway, there is a lot to notice. Song sparrows are active near the Lake, with call of “maids, maids, maids, tea kettle”. As is the soulful sounds of the mourning dove. Spring flowers are staring to emerge, like coltsfoot growing in some of the wetter places. Brought here from Europe as a medicinal plant – it reputedly was able to cure coughs – coltsfoot has now naturalized throughout our region and its yellow, dandelion-like flowers are some of the first of spring. I’ve also seen the pinkish, white blooms of cut leaved toothwort, a small member of the mustard family common in many of our wooded areas. These sights and sounds remind me of the seasonal cycle of growth, birth and renewal, and our connectedness as living beings to this pattern. A connectedness we all too often overlook, or forget about, in our modern world.

The ecologist Aldo Leopold in the first half of the 20th century, and the poet Wendell Berry in our own time, have decried our estrangement to the natural world. In our mechanized, technological world, we have come to view nature – our land, soil, air, plants, trees and animals – as mere commodities to be exploited for our own gain rather than as a living community of which we are a part. A community that sustains us; our lives and society. Perhaps as we are forced now to pause from our normal routine and the connections with our human communities, we can take the time to explore and rekindle new connections to nature and the life we share this planet with.

So, I would encourage you to get outside and look around. While maintaining the proper social distancing, of course. And notice. It is spring and the world is being renewed. Take note of the coltsfoot, and the song sparrow. They are our neighbors and fellow travelers. And there is a lesson here. To paraphrase Thoreau, in nature is the preservation of the world.