by Joshua Glass joshuaglass.net
The value of knowing the species around us extends far beyond mere curiosity. It is an essential aspect of our connection to the Earth, akin to the way we connect with individuals at a social gathering. Just as meeting new people introduces us to diverse perspectives and expands our understanding of the world, getting to know the species in nature broadens our awareness and deepens our sense of belonging to the natural world.
Picture yourself entering a lively gathering in someone’s living room. As you step through the front door, a pool of chattering faces comes into view. The colors, shapes, and textures of their faces allow you to recognize them as fellow humans, but their individual personalities and traits remain unfamiliar to you. In this moment you may feel curious and excited to encounter new people or awkward and nervous as an outsider to a group who is familiar with each other. Finding an open spot on the couch, you introduce yourself to the stranger sitting beside you. Over the next half hour, conversations unfold, and you are introduced to a few more people.
Eventually, the group decides to venture outside for a walk. With each passing minute, you engage in a variety of exchanges. Your preconceived notions and ways of thinking shift and expand. As you walk, one newfound friend enlightens you about their company’s decentralized organizational structure, while another invites you to join a musical jam session. Together, you immerse yourselves in nature, jumping into a nearby lake, building a fire, and cooking a delicious meal. Finally, your friend arrives while you’re serving yourself a portion of food and says, “Looks like you fit right in! Are you having fun?”
Now, let us reimagine the same story within the realm of nature. You stand on the edge of your porch, balcony, or garden, gazing out beyond your feet at a mosaic of green and brown hues. Various shapes, textures, and shades form a familiar yet impersonal tapestry of plants, trees, and soil. Amidst this intricate tapestry, you spot a pine tree and a crow. You venture forth, taking a seat amidst this natural symphony, feeling somewhat out of place in your cotton clothing and sneakers. As 20 or 30 minutes pass by, a gray and orange bird lands on a nearby tree branch, providing you with a sense of relief that you are not alone in wearing vibrant colors. A grasshopper leaps onto your knee from a nearby plant, while black ants traverse the tree where the bird perches. Captivated by these creatures, you observe them closely and listen to the bird’s melodious song.
Later that night, you look up what you saw. You discover that the grasshopper jumped from a sheep sorrel leaf, and the bird is a robin. The melody of the bird’s song remains etched in your mind, and you find yourself whistling it through the next morning. Delving deeper, you uncover even more details — sheep sorrel thrives in acidic sandy soil and can add sweet-sour flavors to soups and salads.
Zooming in on the place beyond your porch, you realize that the vague notion of “nature” is a vibrant world brimming with colors, melodies, textures, aromas, and tastes. Inspired by your encounters, you start spending more time beneath the tree, collecting plants for culinary experiments, and allowing bird songs to ignite your musical creativity. Each creature invites you to engage your body and senses in unique ways — the grasshopper challenges your eyes to track its swift movements, the robin encourages you to broaden your auditory awareness and look skyward, and the sheep sorrel beckons you to crouch down, taste, and savor its flavors.
One day, beyond the confines of your porch, you notice a new mark on the tree you often sit beside. Some bark is peeled off a low-hanging branch, and a paw print adorns the rain-moistened mud beneath. Questions arise within you — did the creature responsible for the print peel the bark, and if so, why? Furthermore, what kind of tree is this after-all? These inquiries kindle a sense of curiosity, propelling you to unravel the mysteries of the natural world.
By exploring and acquainting ourselves with the diverse species that surround us, we cultivate a sense of connection and belonging to the Earth that may be essential to our well-being and creativity. Scientific research from both social psychology and ecology supports this notion. Studies have shown that nature connection enhances our well-being, reduces stress, and fosters a greater sense of purpose in life†. By delving into the intricate web of life, we expand our understanding of our place within the natural world, forging a bond that nurtures both the Earth and ourselves.
Just as mingling with individuals at a gathering exposes us to new perspectives and enriches our social lives, getting to know the species in nature through direct physical interaction allows us to develop a profound sense of belonging and connection to the Earth. By immersing ourselves in the intricacies of the natural world, we awaken our senses, broaden our awareness, and deepen our understanding of the diverse tapestry of life. As we embrace this connection, we intertwine our personal and social well-being with the preservation and stewardship of the planet that supports us to be well.