Closer to Nature: Avenues of Approach
Chances are, when you think about achieving a closer connection with Nature, you’ll think of only two approaches: (1) outdoor recreation and (2) environmentalism. There is no blame here, both are highly valuable approaches, this is simply a symptom of our culture’s emphasis.
The problem is that these two giants have a tendency to eclipse other approaches so that we can’t easily bring other approaches to mind when we’re consciously designing our personalized approach to Nature.
In consciously designing an environmentally aware lifestyle, we need to think about many possible approaches and then pick among these the most meaningful for us.
Here are a few approaches that I have Identified:
Outdoor Recreation hardly needs introduction. Mention these words, and conjure images of hikers, campers, kayaks, and so on. I celebrate each season by unpacking my seasonal equipment. Nothing says winter until I’ve got my snowshoes in easy reach. This approach is very hands on and provides an eco-feast for the senses. I would add Wilderness Survival as a corollary to this because if something goes wrong on your adventure, you need to be prepared. As I would tell visitors to the parks I worked in: “A helicopter and rescue team leave a pretty big footprint, they’re not exactly leave-no-trace, so make smart choices”.
Nature Study is just what it sounds like. One can study a body of scientific knowledge (ex. reading a biology textbook), observe nature in action (ex. Birdwatching), or take science to the field and employ a systematic method for coming up with new and involved insights (ex. I didn’t know that moon rise and set times varied with the phase of the moon until I took down notes). It’s very important to understand the way that Nature works. We’ve got too many politicians (and even environmentalists!) making changes from a position of ignorance.
Natural Health recognizes that we humans are a part of Nature and can look to traditional methods to stay healthy and to fight illness. An example of this is the use of herbalism. A person might drink a tea made from dried German chamomile flowers to de-stress at the end of the day and promote a restful sleep (or settle a stomach).
Natural Diets: there is something very intimate in deriving our very sustenance from the Earth. This is a largely under-emphasized approach to a meaningful relationship with the natural world. At least part of why this is so under-emphasized is because this is seen as a point of too much contention (like religion). There is no uniform diet for all humans, everywhere. A hunter, often painted as a bad guy among environmentalists, kills his/her own food by going out into the elements and bringing down game that is free-range, organic, and that lived a cruelty-free life. Licensing requirements help to ensure that hunters are adequately skilled. My own, mostly vegan, diet varies with the season and my goal is to grow 75% of my own food. I’m currently exploring a raw vegan diet and I love how just about everything I make tastes good, I can recognize the ingredients, and I’m not likely to burn it!
Gardening and homesteading are ways to drastically reduce your footprint on the Earth while deriving real exposure to the Natural world. I’ll never forget the first time I had a real grape. I was in my best friend’s garden, a familiar enough setting, when she came up to me with a bunch of grapes she had grown. They weren’t uniform in color, which should have clued me into my lack of experience with the fruit. Then I tasted one and realized that I had never had a grape before! She raises chickens and bees, too. All cruelty-free and organic. She would know.
Eco-friendly Homes: This is the place that most of us spend the majority of our time and thus changes here can have the most impact of all. It can be made to be our launching point with the Natural world. Does your home provide daily exposure to the Natural world, plenty of sunlight, fresh air, plants, and pets for instance? Do you poison your (and your family’s) bodies and the surrounding environment with toxic cleaners? What is your rate of consumption? Your creative re-use? Your recycling habits? Do your behaviors help to instill love and respect for Nature in your children?
Environmental Philosophy: Why do you make the choices you make? Do you have a checklist of “environmentally appropriate behaviors” that was given to you? This approach explores the why-do of your actions. Having this grounding helps keep your actions in line with your principles. Sometimes convenience can get in the way of your best intentions. Reminding yourself of your values helps combat this.
Nature Spirituality: And you thought I couldn’t be more contentious, right? This is not a conflict with religion, whatever yours may be. This can take many forms. For me, I go to natural places to level my emotions and to increase my feelings of peacefulness, to witness that I’m a part of something greater, and to receive wisdom from the clues in my surroundings. I have a deeply Christian friend who sees contact with Nature as a kind of prayer in that she can reach out and touch the living works of God and find her own Eden. We crave connection. Loneliness is ironically one of the most universal of emotions. We want to reach out and so it is only logical that shutting ourselves up in airtight little boxes is not productive. Placing ourselves back in the world community is a good answer.
Natural Aesthetics: I picked up a SUO (small, unidentified object) off my living room floor. I see no use for such and object but instead of chucking it, I show my very creative husband. The object is just the thing. He glues it on. He paints it. Whatever it was, it has new life.
I like to feed my senses with natural things. Maybe this isn’t so much about making the world at large a better place, but it feeds my spirit. My exploration of my sense of beauty means that I don’t have to rely on mainstream entertainment for all my entertainment needs. I learn to be satisfied by the things I have and the moments I’m in.
I’m a writer, so I write. I couldn’t paint a natural scene to save my life and so I leave that creative expression to those wonderful people who can. I practice aromatherapy and decorate my home in earth tones which I also wear. I wouldn’t want everyone to do as I do (life would be so much less diverse and I would be painfully bored), so let your unique creativity shine through.
The take home lesson here is that your creativity and your talents and sense of aesthetics are also a source of diversity and a means of improving your environment.
Eco-Challenges: It’s nice to spice up your commitment to the environment by occasionally picking up a new challenge. In the section labelled “eco-challenges”, I detail past and current challenges that I’ve decided to work toward. My rationale? I hope that these pieces will inspire you or at least provide you with ideas of changes that you might like to make.
Environmental Activism: This is what most people think about when they hear the word “environmentalism”. It has been linked to all of the above approaches, but I tend to think of it as trying to change other people’s behavior to be more environmentally friendly. You can find the whole gambit of approaches to this from eco-terrorism to protests to paying some environmental charity. What you do depends upon your temperament and goals. I’m not really interested in fighting people until they believe the same things I do. My approach has been to provide information for people who have already decided that they would like to become more connected to the environment. For everyone else, I try to lead by example. I donate as well, but only to carefully scrutinized environmental charities that do not conflict with my own philosophy.
As you can see, there are multiple ways in which one can relate to the environment. I’m sure that the above list is non-exhaustive.
I tend to employ different approaches at different times of the year. I find the winter months to be a useful time to look at my behaviors in the home because I spend a lot more time there. In the spring, I tend to focus on my gardening and homesteading interests. In the summer, I tend to spend more time recreating outdoors. Finally, In the autumn, I tend to turn inward to review my ethical standards and my spiritual health.
Regardless of the season, if you’re looking to make some changes, but aren’t sure where to start, a good place to look is in your own home.
The Next Step
If you’ve found one of the above approaches that really resonates with you, then that is a great place to start. This site is continually growing and archived content will be located under the headings explained above.