- There is pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more …
LORD BYRON, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage
- It’s evident from even a cursory review of Facebook pages or wall calendars that we yearn for contact with nature, whether it be baby pandas, piano-playing cats or mountain vistas. In the suburbs, we spend our money on bird feeders and seed, and toil endlessly on our lawns and gardens. In urban areas, we feed geese, squirrels and pigeons (in spite of their reputation as “rats with wings”). We stare out our office windows at the blowing leaves, and wish for the freedom to join them. Some travel great distances to experience the new and unusual wild, and trod the ‘pathless woods’ and ‘lonely shores’.
- This yearning is identified by George Monbiot in his book, Feral, as an ill-defined longing for the wild, or “ecological boredom.” He notes that, “we wish to believe we are surrounded by ancient terrors,” to stir the blood and raise our passions. And yet, as various studies demonstrate, nature gives us a sense of peace and belonging, and helps to melt our stresses away. After I watch a football game, I desperately need to go for a walk to get the stress and tension out of my system (particularly if we lose).
- ‘Environmental amnesia’ (per John Marzluff in his Subirdia) has let us forget our ties to the natural world. It crops up unbidden, however, and we feel the need to reconnect. Maybe it’s genetic, based on our evolution from savanna-skulking hominids trying to survive in a dangerous world. Nature was, and is, both friend and foe, mother and rival. As we have civilized ourselves, we have industrialized our lives and eliminated some vital part of our community – the natural world. It is possible and necessary, to reintegrate the natural world back into our lives.
- We must preserve and protect ‘unspoiled’ natural areas, however, it is also necessary to find ways to integrate nature into our daily lives. Whether our lives are urban, suburban or rural, we can find ways to enhance our natural community, and by association, our natural experience.
- People in urban areas benefit from the reintroduction of greenery, water features and quiet spaces. These features help to build community, improve environmental conditions, increase property values and elevate quality of life. In addition, they can promote a more balanced natural community that includes birds, small animals and other forms of life. Vegetation improves air quality, helps to reduce noise and summer temperatures and is pleasing to the senses. Water features can aid in flood control and improve water quality. Active ‘rewilding’ of vacant land, under-used industrial properties, roadways, waterways, utility right-of-ways, parks and open spaces is viable and can be extremely effective.
- The suburbs offer a variety of opportunities for improving our experience with nature. As with urban areas, integrating nature into suburbs has a positive impact on the whole community. Suburbs already have the advantage of space available for developing more native and nature-friendly conditions. Much can be done on an individual basis by home and property-owners, without requiring community involvement or consensus. Shifting vegetation types from non-native to native plants and plants that provide food and shelter immediately improves the natural quality of the area. Even more is accomplished by replacing ‘industrial lawns’ with ‘Freedom lawns’ — mowed infrequently, and free from pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. Bird feeders, bird houses and access to water and sheltering vegetation encourages use by a variety of species. Expanding these practices across a neighborhood provides a greater habitat that rivals, or in some cases exceeds, adjacent native areas.
- Rural areas come with their own existing natural features, but also present potentially easier ways to improve and expand the natural experience. Agricultural practices can be modified to include protective features, such as maintaining hedgerows and fence lines in a natural condition, selective thinning of trees and brush, managing livestock intrusion into water bodies, planting of native vegetation, crop selection, and timing harvests and mowing to avoid nesting by field birds, reptiles or amphibians. Rural areas may also have existing predator species, such as coyotes, foxes, snakes, owls, and hawks, that can help to naturally manage populations of various prey species, such as insects, birds, mice, and rabbits.
- Whatever the conditions are where you live or work, you can take steps to improve them and make them more inclusive of nature. You can work with local governments and landowners to enrich their lands, as well. Your efforts will be well repaid in the quality of your life, your neighborhood and the natural community.
- And whenever you want, you can still peek at those baby pandas, crazy cats and mountain vistas online.