Getting to Know My Environment
October 15th is Blog Action Day, and the topic is The Environment. Now, I like a nice tree as much as the next fella, maybe even more. I once lived for 10 months in central Florida and what got to me wasn’t the incessantly warm weather or lack of decent Chinese food within 100 miles of me. To my surprise, what I missed the most were the trees I used to see in New England. I remember the first time I saw a tree when I was 32 years old. Sure, I’d seen trees before, but I’d never really looked at what they were. I had been spending way too much time in front of the computer bringing my creative skills back up to par after a disheartening experience of being a manager. My friend Alen took me to the Winchester Reservoir, perhaps the first time I ever voluntarily went into the outdoors. I remember walking among tall pine trees on a fragrant (and i don’t mean in a good way) bed of needles and moss, wondering what I had gotten myself into and hoping I didn’t step in anything. Then we came into a small clearing and could see the lake for the first time. The sun was shining brightly, streamers of light slicing through the trees and scattering upon the shimmering surface of the water, deeply reflecting the blue of the sky and mirroring the puffy clouds floating lazily above it all. I was transfixed, and the first thought that burst upon my conscious was I need to buy a much bigger and brighter computer monitor. My second thought followed logically: There is no way that any computer in the world could match this. I have been wasting my time.
Since that day, I’ve decided that trees are really important to me, though I actually don’t go out of my way to do anything about this. I just like to have them around me. I guess this is similar to people who prefer living in the city for the “people energy” that charges them. This doesn’t necessarily mean they like to socialize with those people; it’s just that the energy feels good to them, and motivates them on some primal subconscious level. And so it is with me and trees.
The rest of the time, I don’t even think about them. I take those lovely trees for granted, probably because I spend most of my time living in my head and looking at people. I’m not a naturally outdoorsy person, so the environment isn’t something that I think of as a destination or activity in itself; it’s just the backdrop against which all the other interesting things happen. And there are so many interesting things (social and otherwise) going on that I forget about the trees, the wind, and stars, and the water. It is only the sun that I have a daily relationship with, because I like sitting outside Starbucks in the morning, catching whatever feeble rays manage to hustle their way into the New England sky, before we get our 5 month quota of snow, mud, and slush.
So the question is: should I care?
The responsible person, conditioned by years of primary and secondary school education, of course cares about the environment. We’re supposed to. We’ve heard a lot of reports about how nature is going to hell in a hand-basket due to our shortsighted abuse of resources, our wastefulness, and our callous disregard for ecological balance. I also am skeptical of activist-sourced claims because they are sometimes dramatically—how do I put this delicately—trumped up based on the artful manipulation of statistics and made to evoke a knee-jerk reaction in people. However, even in the case of tainted data analysis, it comes down to this: the environment is pretty darn cool, and we actually do have to live in it. More importantly with regards to me, I need to live in it. Even more specifically, I need to be aware of it. From a purely selfish reason, there may be secrets in the Environment that will help me in much the same way that hike through Winchester opened my eyes to just how much more glorious Nature could be, and how I could be bound with it.
LEARNING TO LISTEN
I recently started a daily gym habit, which I’ve adhered too for the past 3 and a half months. One of the things that I learned about the gym was that when you start, your mind and body lie to you. I would hop on a Stairmaster, and about a minute in my muscles start going, “hey, HEY. What are you doing? You should know that I am officially complaining about this additional work we were not planning on doing.” My mind reacts, “Oh yeah, we should stop. Besides, you WANT to.” If my trainer had not told me that I had to do a minimum of 30 minutes a day for the exercise to mean anything at all, I probably would have stopped. But I didn’t, and I didn’t die, and at the 2.5 minute mark my muscles are going, “Ok, ok. We get it, so I’m going along with the program. However, you should know that I’m officially burning and am going to make you feel it. Just so you know.” and my mind again goes, “Hey, wow. The body is making noise, and we probably should stop.” And again we go through that whole “at least 30 minutes” thing, and I push through to the 5- and 10-minute marks. I eventually figured out that by really listening to my body, I could have an actual conversation with it. At first, I didn’t know how to interpret the sensations coming from my muscles as pain or discomfort. I also didn’t know that my mind and body could be so easily convinced to keep going; the body is designed for this, and exercising that conversation between my mind, my body, and my will has become something I look forward to every morning.
It occurs to me that I could apply the same lesson to the environment, but what do I listen for?
I once worked on a couple of interactive kiosks for the Boston Museum of Science about “bird language” and walking through the woods. As a regular person walks through the woods, birds keeping watch are constantly sounding alarms and other THERE’S AN ENEMY HERE. The space immediately around the person, however, is silent; this is the so-called CONE OF SILENCE. An expert nature walker, however, knows how to move through the woods in a way that doesn’t set off the birds. They meander. They move without rhythm. They can more truly experience the life of the forest, because they have learned how to become part of it.
I am unlikely to become part of the environment in this way, but perhaps there are small ways that I could learn to engage with it. How do I make nature relevant to myself in a daily manner?
I could start by just looking at the trees a little more closely, and trying to understand why I like them so much. Thus, by forming a bond with the trees, I might be more inclined to be good to them.
I could learn to feel a sense of ownership by thinking of the Environment as my neighborhood. This would be a stretch for me, I think.
I could just start finding parts of the Environment that I really like. There are a few places that speak to me: kayaking on the reservoirs with ducks, seeing the sky open up wide as you drive into New Hampshire, and watching the trees change their colors over the seasons.
The above reasons feel a little weak to me, but it’s what I can come up with right now. First, I need to just pay attention and maybe introduce myself. Hi, I’m Dave! I live a few doors down from you, have seen you every day when I go out for work, and have thought that you were really interesting and that I’d like to spend some more time getting to know you.