Years ago Vogue Magazine asked this question, “Why do we need nature?” and solicited essays for one winner to be published. At the time it seemed like a ridiculous question with an obvious answer – until I tried to answer it. I tried to answer it through thinking about it. I did not win of course.
Well, I just experienced the answer. In July I left for a cabin in a semi-wilderness area of the Pisgah National Forest on privately owned land that abuts the Smoky Mountain National Park. With only the Dogwood Flats Creek gurgling by and the sound of waterfalls below the cabin, and the echos of bird song ringing through the forest, I finally heard what my heart had to tell me as thoughts and cares of urban living fell away like an old skin and suddenly I was Present.
It had been many years. I also became aware of how unhealthy I was after many years of stress and working in an environment that does not promote activity and healthy eating. But by American standards I even appear relatively healthy. But up in the mountains, breathing clean air, getting lots of activity on hikes and watching birds; drinking spring water and being in the quiet all day, I realized the full cost of work that is centered around a computer. It has drained my strength and dulled my imagination.
The only reason I had this chance to make the realization of my lifetime is because of the Queen family in Waynesville, NC who own the cabin and 100 acres on which it sits. The “cabin” is a two-story log cabin with a large living area and three spacious bedrooms and two baths, a full kitchen and satellite TV. So it’s a comfortable place to stay while giving guests the time to concentrate on the beauty of the natural surroundings, with lots of rocking chairs on the front porch to sit, rock, and let all the stress or whatever emotions may be present to minimize and finally slip away. I was there to write and to find out what was ailing me. The book of essays that I completed on this mountain retreat came easily in the space of this beautiful, isolated environment. I realized that my original impulse to persuade the public to protect the Earth, in particular to encourage children, teachers and parents to take time in nature, is my true path. Along the way I got off track mostly due to financial necessity. Over the next ten months I will be making a transition to focus my energies and talents back in that direction.
2 thoughts on “Why Do We Need Nature?”
Your rediscovery of, and reconnection to, nature in the wild seem to have given you wonderful new insights into your life and it purpose. What is the magic? Is it simply the break from routine that allows you space for new thoughts? No, I am sure it is much more than that. In my personal experience, moving from the urban to the wild brings us back to an Earth-centered perspective that is the reality we tend to ignore back in town.
From the writings of Henry David Thoreau and many others we learn that, to be truly human, we must understand our place in the natural world. And if we are open to the sounds and sights of a forest far from the crowd and their machines and their demands and their distractions, we know that our place is as one among many creatures. We are like the leaf that shutters on the branch high above us, or the beetle that burrows into the decaying matter along the trail. In my wilderness experiences, I have found myself having such thoughts in an unconscious effort to get closer to the reality of our place in the universe than our usual, everyday human-centered view.
Years ago, I frequently visited a small river valley a few miles from our home in Columbia, MD. The area was close but remote, and I came to think of it as an urban wilderness. I remember that my strongest sensation was to feel at one with my surroundings. Leaving behind the stresses of the office, I felt joy and a sense of harmony in the smallest signs that the Earth is turning, the clouds are flowing, and this place is my way into the universe. I find that deep woods can give us a new alertness to our world. New, exotic locations are not necessary setting for our new insights into the natural world; it is only necessary that we look at the world with new eyes, open to the wonder around us.
Susan, I wish you well on your journey and hope you can persevere in the presence of the life’s many pressures. I know you will continue to share your experience of this great transition.
Larry, thank you for taking time to respond in such a thoughtful manner, sharing your personal experiences. Yes, the immersion in nature brings all these realizations, and the glad tidings John Muir wrote about; I too felt joy and freedom, reverence for the life around me, and all the senses fully engaged. Urban living, too much time on a computer, two dimensional relationships via email, etc. – all had dulled my perceptions and imagination….