Paving Paradise

In the last few days our local paper as well as the Huffington Post carried related articles that point to rapidly changing environmental conditions while we realize human health is changing in tandem. In Pensacola we have a black bear problem. These Florida natives are running out of habitat. Little vestiges of habitat (parks that once offered solace from the noise of the marketplace) shrink further in the name of progress. Since moving here in 2008 I’ve watched the horizon fill in with high rises, and any little stretch of forest planed for another enterprise.

Ariana Huffington published a long article yesterday from an international women’s conference in the UK focused on the redefining “success” which in its present definition is making us miserable. A parallel focus from the conference focused on the benefits of meditation. Health statistics for the UK are dramatic: 8 million people suffer from anxiety. The incidence of depression worldwide has risen to as many as 350 million according to the World Health Organization. In the U.S. antidepressants are commonly prescribed. After my father died I felt depressed.  My doctor recommended, you guessed, an antidepressant. I responded, “No thank you, I’d rather walk it off on the beach.”

So how are black bears, shrinking parks, depression and anxiety related? Turns out that humans need nature, open space, silence, and beauty to thrive. We are busily doing away with each of them and other species are in the wake.

Evidence of the vital connections between intact natural areas and human mental and physical health could fill this blog entry but its intuitive. No healthy human can deny they need some daily exposure to natural beauty to feel well. A life confined to an office and computer is a horrible life. Admit it. Even if you are playing a sport, like golf for instance, its the rolling green, the scent of warm earth under your cleats, the shade of trees and gurgling water that drop your heart rate, encourage you. Huffington suggests we redefine the meaning of success. She is palpating the Western cultural and Puritanical roots of our present day work ethic. It has planed forests, rerouted rivers, asphalted over Paradise with Pink Hotels to recall the old Joni Mitchell lyrics. We cannot continue to diminish nature without diminishing ourselves. Let’s mediate on that.

Suzuki Wisdom

David Suzuki is a key environmental leader whom I trust and look to for clarity in these days of muddy commentary. The David Suzuki Foundation is Canada’s most effective environmental education and action center. The essay today poses a critical question relevant to these United States. We share the contiguous natural land, waters, and air that prevail on our shared continent and border.

More than 13 per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product depends on healthy ecosystems, according to Environment Canada briefing notes obtained by Postmedia News. By contrast, the Harper government’s pet economic project, the Alberta oil sands, represents a mere two per cent. But is 13 per cent a reasonable estimate of the “value” of nature? With the current perspective that elevates the economy above all else, it’s important to find ways to include nature’s value in our calculations so it doesn’t get ignored in decision-making. At the same time, it seems absurd to try to assign worth to something so vital we can’t survive without it.

Read the full essay

The Soul of Nature

Rachel Carson wrote that without the beauty and peace from nature some part of our humanness is retarded. As we destroy natural areas or replace them with human-made versions we will further diminish our soul.

The very soil on which we walk is the source of energy we utilize to walk, run, work, love, laugh, and create. Because modernity has intervened, covering up the planting, harvesting, delivering and even preparation of food, modern people take it as something packaged and sold. This is a profound tragedy and may spell our own end.

What got lost is the connection, the appreciation of the special role of each creature and the action of rain, sunlight, wind—a whole community’s symphonic creation of the firm red apple, golden corn, or juicy watermelon we buy off the shelf of Publix or Kroger’s.

It is said that the First Americans caressed the Earth with their feet when they walked. That reverent act arises from such knowledge of the whole of creation and of the human’s complete dependence on all its fellow creatures.

What kind of advancement, civilization, or intelligence loses the knowledge of its origins and sources of its continued survival? It is a mind that believes it can replace or improve on what took the universe billions of years to produce. This must be distinguished from the natural curiosity of a human being and participation in the processes he or she observes in nature and then emulates or even strengthens. What is the ballast that balances each of these minds? For the latter it is sure knowledge of the interconnectedness of living communities (ecosystems) and a resultant respect for life. The former arises from values of utilization of nature and its resources for the good of one species only and the resultant oppression or subjugation of life for material purposes.

Both of these minds exist on this American Continent and their values mix in some citizens’ approach to living and doing business of Earth.

Now is a time for each of us to reexamine our personal relationship with nature, with all the life around us. Do we truly value it; do we really understand the profound relationship there?

We are all overdue on unplanned time in a place of beauty and quiet, that is, if we can find one. If you know that place or places, go there but go lightly, and quietly. Create no waste, no sign of your having been there, be silent and just receive its healing qualities. Breathe deeply and wonder. Find your soul by reconnecting with the soul of nature.

Rachel Carson’s Legacy

It is more important to be excited, than to be filled with knowledge when we are young.

Rachel Carson developed a deep sense of wonder exploring the fields and woods near her childhood home in Springdale, Pennsylvania with her mother. Carson remembers being encouraged to explore nature. “I can remember no time when I wasn’t interested in the out of doors and the whole world of nature….Those interests I know I inherited from my mother and have always shared with her.”1

It was during the impressionable time of childhood that Carson’s invincible love and advocacy for nature was formed. In A Sense of Wonder — a book she wrote for her niece’s son Roger whom she raised after his mother’s untimely death — she describes her belief in the importance of developing an emotional tie to nature.

Once emotions have been aroused — a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love – then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning. It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate.2

Parents, grandparents, and teachers can engender feelings of love and respect for the living world in young children by sharing their own surprise, wonder, and interest. It’s about sharing the experience rather than knowing the facts and figures! Carson would bundle Roger in warm blankets and take him down to the shore to see the moonlight shimmering on the shoreline of her West Southport, Maine summer home. Or, they put on slickers and huddled together during storms to feel the sea spray and wonder at the thundering waves crashing on the beach. She writes of spiders she “got to know” in woodpiles near the cabin. Carson’s own deep ties to nature sustained her through rigorous challenges later when Silent Spring caused a national uproar over pesticide use, and launched the environmental movement in the U.S. Even when her life was threatened she never swayed from her conviction that damage to nature did not have to be an inevitable consequence of technological progress.3

As parents and educators I think it is critical we pay attention to the message Rachel Carson so eloquently expressed. Learning and developmental theories indicate that we learn first through our senses, and indeed, memory is intricately tied to sensory traces in neuronal networks in the brain. We all have experienced a rush of memories — as fresh as the day we experienced them – when we smell a certain scent, or hear an old tune. When we educate children we must start with emotional and sensory experience. Children of course do this naturally in their explorations and we just need to follow their lead.

1. Brooks, Paul (1972). Rachel Carson: The Writer at Work. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, p. 18.
2. Carson, Rachel (1965). A Sense of Wonder. New York: Harper & Row
Below is a Link to the film, A Sense of Wonder, which I highly recommend to readers.
A Sense of Wonder

Dappled Wood

i walked into a dappled wood
my troubles shed behind me
tatters on the soft path

the air was crisp and cool
the stones wet and shiny
little dog pranced ahead

i walked into a dappled wood
and found complete understanding
among the leaves and vines

when i returned renewed
i donned the garment lightly
to carry on and so forth

Go Outside!

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” ~ John Muir


Did you wake up feeling blah? Is life more like a dried banana chip than a plum? Chances are you are suffering from the modern ailment: technology alienation.

How d0 2-dimentional relationships compare to the REAL THING? Poorly, yet due to the ever present new device we are letting the former substitute for the latter. Casting votes or signing a petition on-line are convenient, but there is nothing like holding your own homemade placard and standing shoulder to shoulder with your “tribe” to grieve for freedom, justice, and quality of life. And its great to have such easy communication with friends and family but after a while don’t those short code messages leave you feeling tired?

Something as simple as taking your cup of coffee outside, to sit on your porch, or wander through the yard; try doing nothing but listening. Why you never knew there were bees in the bushes, or that pair of cardinals singing the brightest song…


Many scientists and psychologists have “proven” the health promoting elements of nature for humans; it is our origin. Environmentalists point out the invention that changed our relationship with nature: the flush toilet. People HAD to go outside before that invention; sitting on the hole in the moonlight, rain, and snowy snowy days…the odors of matter turning over below you, the pungent scent of earth and growing green things, a yellow moon, or a cool breeze – humans were more in touch with the seasons and the granular nature of living things. Videos, photos don’t get but a tiny % of the REAL THING.

Go get yourself an ice cream cone. Make it a double-header; sit outside and lap it up with someone you know or even a stranger. Just enjoy it to the fullest.

For me, the art of staying alive in a graying world makes me want to plant flowers, dig soil, climb a mountain and get those glad tidings from this amazing planet we call home.