I came across a story yesterday about one of my favorite botanists/authors. Dr. Robin Kimmerer, author of “Braiding Sweetgrass”, asks her students to raise their hands if they love nature. A room full of young environmentalists, of course they all raise their hands. Then she asks them to keep their hands up if nature loves them back. All of the hands come down. They were on fire to fix nature, but didn’t believe that nature would respond to them, would nurture them right back.
When I read that, I felt like a lightening bolt had struck me. Of course! We hear all the time that our natural world is broken. And it is, or nearly so, in some instances. It can heal if we give it a chance, though. But what is really needing our attention is our broken relationship to the natural world. Somehow we’ve gotten too sophisticated, too rational, to believe in the sentience of the natural world. That feels like superstitious nonsense in today’s high-tech world.
Sensitive gardeners know, though. Oh sure, they know they can blast a weed with weedkiller. But they also know that if they pay attention, they realize the specific weed that is growing there is communicating something. Some weeds, for instance, love the acidic soil where your neighbors always let their dogs urinate. Not only are they communicating the condition of the soil to you, if left alone they will help correct the problem. Treading lightly, nurturing one’s soil brings an abundant response in the garden. This is so in forests, oceans, prairies, too.
Have you ever felt a tug at your consciousness as you walk along a trail, and turn your head to see a delightful surprise? Once I was shivering along on a late winter day as the ice was beginning to break up on the river. I felt such a nudge and turned in time to see a river otter gleefully sliding from the ice into the water. There was a time when people took it as a matter of course that the natural world was reaching out to them, speaking to them. Responding. And yes, loving. How much richer all our lives can be if we once again tap into this relationship that is waiting, just outside our door.