“We cannot step outside life’s songs. This music made us; it is our nature.”
~ David Haskell quoted by Maria Popova
In the opening scene of the movie, “Taps,” Gregory Hines, deep in the silence of night in a prison cell, hears drops of water on metal. The rhythmic plops make a beat that ultimately moves him to begin tap dancing — to the chagrin of surrounding prisoners.
One of my first jobs had me in the photocopying room where we routinely made thousands of copies. The rhythm of the copy machine and the chunking of the paper feeding and exiting got into my blood and it took a while afterward to shake it all off.
Waiting for the light rail the other day, I noticed that as it approached, it had a rhythm that had me swaying in response. As it got closer, the driver and I exchanged glances, and he smiled — weaving his own head in response as he drove by me.
On some hikes, I have found the forest to be quiet with just a whisper of wind in the trees and the occasional chittering of a squirrel or the call of a bird. Inevitably, however, I soon notice I am matching my pace to a quiet rhythm that comes from the surrounding forest.
While not as graceful as Gregory Hines, I observe that my pace and rhythm change with the terrain. The quiet dense woods slow my pace to a gentle stroll (think, ‘Ebb Tide’ by The Righteous Brothers), more openness increases the pace (‘Sunshine on my Shoulders’ by John Denver), and treeless grasslands quicken it even more (‘Waltzing Matilda’). I seldom if ever get up to a fast pace (‘Stayin’ Alive’ by BeeGees), but the relevant song will usually stay with me afterwards. I suspect that this natural rhythm is why marchers chant or sing as they go, the rhythm attaches to the pace and the place.
“When we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy.” ~ Hermann Hesse quoted by Maria Popova
Nature in general and trees in particular connect with us in ways we don’t understand. We know that exposure to nature is beneficial to us physically and mentally. It relieves stress, gives us healing essential oils and strengthens our psyches.
But many of us have lost the ability to connect with nature.
“Our language for nature is now such that the things around us do not talk back to us in ways that they might. As we have enhanced our power to determine nature, so we have rendered it less able to converse with us.” ~ Robert Macfarlane
Macfarlane notes that the Oxford Junior Dictionary has eliminated several dozen ‘nature words’, such as acorn, beech, dandelion, and hazel, but replaced them with technical terms reflecting the ‘consensus experience of modern-day childhood.’ He concludes that “the outdoor and the natural being displaced by the indoor and the virtual – are a small but significant symptom of the simulated life we increasingly live. Children are now (and importantly) adept technologists of the technoscape, with numerous terms for file types but few for different trees and creatures.”
This evokes the image of children (or adults) glued to their iPhones oblivious to their surroundings. Being adept at using modern technologies is necessary for most of us, and it becomes more important over time. However, we must also maintain and improve our relationships with the natural world.
We cannot live our lives in a virtual world. As we have seen with the recent natural disasters (floods, fires, hurricanes, earthquakes), we live on an earth made up of water and soils and plants and animals. We depend on these natural systems functioning to provide us with our food, shelter and security, not to mention, great beauty and mystery.
Maria Popova quoted a seventeenth century English gardener, “Trees speak to the mind, and tell us many things, and teach us many good lessons.” We need to listen, to hear, what nature is saying to us. A battle against nature is not one we can ever win; it is too persistent, too eternal to be overcome. We need to listen and hear and find ways to work with nature. Remember, in any contest, nature bats last.
The beat is there, we just have to hear it.
Maria Popova, 12/08/17, Brain Pickings, The Songs of Trees: A Biologist’s Lyrical Ode to How Relationships Weave the Fabric of Life, by David George Haskell
Robert Macfarlane, 2015, Landmarks
Robert Macfarlane, 2012, The Old Ways