Things we learn from Nature

Email to a Friend   
Sunrise over a sharon conglomerate outcropping

Every day is bright and sunny when we look beyond the clouds.

Walking through a long grass meadow one morning this week, I was amazed at the brilliant colors of the plants and animals in the morning light.  Equally amazing were the crisp and clear sounds of the birds all around.  All the world, at that moment, was right.

Soon afterward, I returned to the house, energized about life.  Then, my own reality overtook that dose of ultimate reality I had just experienced.  Couldn’t find a matched pair of socks.  Bit into my fried egg sandwich and got covered in runny yolk.  Started to floss my teeth and realized there was only about 3 inches of floss left in the roll.    All very petty complaints, I know.
None of these experiences  meant anything in the grand scheme of things.  But in that moment, when I knew the rest of my day would be filled with meetings, phone calls, deadlines and the pressures of working to save nature one peice of land at a time,  these little things really got the best of me and zapped my energy.
I went from flying with the eagles to feeling like I had been knocked flat in a matter of minutes.  Then, I remembered once again that there was a much bigger reality in Nature.  These meaningless things couldn’t harm my soul nor could they dampen my spirits for more than a moment.  Right outside the real world kept on going regardless of my little woes.
Whenever little or big things block our paths, Nature usually has a lesson we can use to brighten things up and move on.  Here are a few of my favorites.
  1. There are some things in life we can’t control
  2. Ever stand in a forest during heavy winds? The groan of tree trunks straining against the winds is awesome.  The cracking of large branches and the sharp sounds of limbs breaking as a falling tree hits them is terrifying when you hear it up close.  Leaves are torn from the trees.  Animals take cover.  There is nothing a human can do except take cover and wait it out.  None of us would be stupid enough to grab the trunk of a windthrown tree and try to hold it up.  It can’t be done.

    Why is it then that we think we can control everything in our own lives? We need to use our brains and realize that sometimes, all we can do is wait out the storm and then enjoy the calm aftermath.  And that is okay.

  3. Everything is part of a cycle
  4. We have four seasons. They go on in about the same pattern year after year, lifetime after lifetime.  We know that spring wildflowers emerge after the cold of winter has passed. We know that the cool and wet rains will give way to warm and dry days of summer. We know that the leaves will turn and birds will fly south in fall as the natural world goes dormant in preparation for winter.  We know it will all start again in spring.  We know this without question.

    Water flows in a cycle as well.  Evaporation forms clouds.  Clouds rain down on the land.  Rainwater soaks in or runs off into streams which lead to rivers that ultimately flow back to the ocean.  Some of the water evaporates and goes through the cycle again.

    Creatures are born, consume other creatures or plants, die, and become nutrients for yet more life.  Nothing in Nature is wasted because everything is cyclical.

    Think about that and seek out ways to apply it in your own life.

  5. Even small things are important
  6. Sometimes I go to the forest for solitude.  The trees are huge silent companions.  They stand like giant wise beings simply keeping their own counsel and living after their own Nature.  But, sit long enough in a forest and you will realize that even when you are alone with these giants, active animal life surrounds you and life is small.  The leaf litter is alive with bugs and worms and all forms of life.  The huge trees are covered with birds and bugs.  Bees and other insects fly by.  The seemingly significant trees are really just the backdrop for real life in the forest.

    The immense bulk of living things in the world are small and seemingly insignificant.  They are invisible to us in our daily lives.  Yet they matter in ways we don’t always realize.  Ants, for example, are important in the lifecycle of the large white-flowered trillium.  Without ants, these beautiful wildflowers can’t spread.

    What small things can you observe in your life that might be more important than you first realize?

  7. Diversity is important
  8. The gypsy moth invasion passed through our area in the late 1990’s.  Many oak trees were killed within Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  However, other species of trees were largely unaffected.  Now, the emerald ash borer is causing mortality among ash trees in Ohio.  Maples and oaks and cherries and tulip poplars are doing just fine.
    If our forests were monocultures, either of these individual events or the scores of other stressors out there would have decimated our forests.  However, Nature has inherent  resilience through diversity.  It amazes me how diverse the world is.  There might be 60 or more spring wildflowers in an old growth forest like Johnson Woods State Nature Preserve.  Each of them fills a valuable niche in the ecosystem.  If a disease or predation removes one of the species, another generally is able to fill the spot and keep the system healthy.

    However, when we mow Nature down and replace it with lawns, single species crop fields or other low diversity systems, one disaster can wipe it all away.  Humans and their thoughts and activities are the same way.  If we reject those who are different from us, we weaken the whole fabric of our collective being.  If we all thought and acted the same, we would all be weaker.

The great cycle of life and Nature is in charge, but we all have a role to play in Nature and in life.  We are all important even when we feel powerless, small, or alone.  Even if our teeth are unflossed,  our favorite shirt has egg yolk on it, and our socks are slightly mismatched.  There are many lessons in Nature and these are just the tip of the iceberg.

What lessons have you learned from Nature?

Comments are closed.