One of my latest discoveries, which means that I am late in discovering them, is a TED talk by Emma Marris on the definition of nature. I had never actually considered the view she is opposing, namely that nature is only what is untouched by humans, but I still like the points that she makes. The title of this post is also inspired by what she said.
Nature is all around us and we need to not dismiss any parts of it. Nature is where life thrives, in all its forms. Nature is where plants, and bugs, and big and small animals live. So what if it is not so beautiful to our well-conditioned eye? It is beautiful because it contains life. And while beauty can help with our general feeling of satisfaction about having gone out in nature, it has absolutely nothing to do with the actual benefits it can bring us. But for that, we need to stop looking at it like it’s all about the aesthetics, and start looking with our hands. Yes, that means exactly that: getting our hands dirty. It does not mean starting to reap everything apart, it simply means touching. Nature does not collapse if it is touched; after all, so many species touch each other and interact and thrive because of it. Only by getting a bit dirty will we actually get to know it, learn how it works, learn how it thrives, and learn to feel connected with it.
After all, we too are nature. We just forget that sometimes. Just because we are intelligent creatures does not mean that we are above nature. If it weren’t for all the other species on Earth, we would not be here either. We need to be more symbiotic with our fellow creatures, we would all benefit from it.
But in order for this to work, now and in the long run, we need to teach ourselves and, very importantly, the next generation to interact with nature. I don’t know about you, but I grew up in a time and place where chemicals became a blessing because they could clean (i.e. eliminate everything in sight) with less effort, when the dirt needed to be out and stay out at all costs, when keeping all living creatures away was better. While I don’t want cockroaches and the likes creeping around in my home, I don’t think making a sanitised environment that would repel all living creatures is a good idea either. I need to teach my kids, and myself, that life has many forms and that all life is good.
So here are a few things that I do, and a few I should be doing more of.
Kick out, not squash, the bugs. If you don’t like bugs, fine. But that doesn’t mean you have to kill them. I am not fond of them either, but I have been trying to invite them outside rather than assassinate them. This is a great message to send to kids.
Allow the presence of unplanned life in your garden. Yes, having plants will attract all sorts of living things; but unless your livelihood depends on those plants staying alive and in mint condition, every single one of them, then don’t use pesticides.
Even better, plan for extra life in your garden. One of my small projects-in-the-planning is creating a plant area that encourages bugs and snails and butterflies and bees to come visit. That makes for a great exploration spot for kids.
This may not be approved by many, but sometimes if I have a piece of stone fruit when I am outdoors, I intentionally throw the stone somewhere in the grass, hoping that a tree might grow out of it. I don’t, however, condone throwing around any other type of garbage.
Grow herbs and other edibles. I would love to have a field of herbs, especially basil and thyme, my absolute favourites. I have been struggling to find a spot for them in my kitchen since we’ve moved into a new house, but this is it, I think (i.e hope) I have finally found it and this year will be the year of aromatics. I used to have basil in our previous home, and one year I grew some cherry tomatoes in the garden, which led to Kid 1 (then about 2 years old) to stand next to them and point and keep saying “eten, eten” so that I would pick some up for him to eat. That only stopped when there were no more tomatoes in sight. So benefits all round.
Take kids somewhere where they can dig, touch, rummage, pick up stuff safely and without interruptions. That means not in places where they can only stand and look in awe, that will never happen, and they will never get to appreciate anything.
Writing all this has the primary purpose of inspiring myself to do more, which is a bit fruitless on such a horrible, rainy, windy day. But maybe it is even more important to keep focusing on the positive interactions with nature on these days when I can barely have any, or will soon get the negative one (wind in my face as I struggle to drag an unhappy toddler back from school). I need to keep dreaming and hoping for the more inviting days when we can all go exploring outside.