Tag Archives: Nature

Where to escape in a city:

“It’s not a city, it’s the suburbs,” says my narrow-minded, ignorant family member.

When I️ can only make out the Big Dipper and Orion at night, when the streetlights keeping me up at night are brighter than the sun peaking over the morning horizon, when the buzz of traffic is constantly evident…I’m in a city.

It’s not your fault though…you don’t know what it’s like to live in a rustic cabin with no WiFi or to have to gather your own firewood and start a fire every night. You don’t know what the world looks like behind your 65-inch TV or your 4-inch iPhone and you certainly don’t know that “leisure” and “outdoors” can go together without an agenda.

The only other human at this artificial lake is a boy. Someone dropped him off just after I️ arrived so that he could fish. I️ think he is catching some, but I’m also hearing a handful jump out of the water in front of me.

Nature is refreshing, like a glass of ice-cold water for a red-hot angry mind.

Some people use the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” to unofficially describe the impacts of a lack of slow-paced quality outdoor time.

Irritability, fear, apathy, confusion, and anxiety make their way into my “normalness” when I️ skip the parks and forest hikes for mindless modern-day entertainment. It clouds around me like a swarm of stickiness. I️ think that it’s normal…but it’s not. At least, it shouldn’t be.

Sometimes it just takes a stop by the park to shift me back into a more satisfying way of being alive: patience, relaxation, and imagination.

Luckily I️ am just visiting this massive “suburb.” For getting an afternoon date with myself at the park here is like getting to eat a carrot or two after fasting all morning. I️ am malnourished being here, but luckily I️ know what I️ need to feel satiated.

Where the Mind Goes, Energy Flows

Netflix. Food. Instagram. Book. Food. Netflix. Netflix. Tumblr…

Agh! The stimuli.

RajWhat ever happened to those hours I spent alone growing up, hanging out with myself?

Maybe I’d watch the neighbors drive past or planes migrate across the sky or find patterns in the wall texture.

My life was centered around imagination and wonder rather than mindless entertainment.

“The most important thing you own and can give away is your attention.”
—San Pedro / Aguacoya Shaman

You know, those ideas that you can’t quite put into words until you hear someone else says it? This was one of them. It resonated with me HARD…to the point of goosebumps truthbumps, a jawdrop, and staring off into the ethers for a little bit.

Being alive used to be an entire meditation, now I have to “make time” for it.

“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes each day
—unless you are too busy.
Then you should sit for an hour”
—Zen Proverb

Even sillier, is thinking that it’s something that I have to “make time” to do.

Why am I thinking that meditation is a doable activity and not the seamless state of consciousness that it is?

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Take a Chance, Veer off the Paved Path in Coastal Alaska

I just got back from Alaska this weekend. One of my favorite parts of the trip was visiting Mendenhall Glacier. Pictures cannot do glaciers justice. Their grandness is truly incredible. They fill valleys between mountains like rainfall fills cracks in sidewalks.

When I arrived at the glacier park, there was a paved trail that went from the visitors center closer to the glacier and a waterfall. Normally I avoid these types of trails if possible; I like to feel the ruggedness of Earth beneath my feet and avoid the crowds. However, it was rainy season up in the North and parts of the cement path were flooded almost six inches deep, so I’m glad I didn’t have to walk completely in mud on this small hike.

There was never a point on this two mile trail that I could look in front or behind where I was walking and not see tourists. This was frustrating, I definitely saw more people than wildlife.

But as I was meandering along the paved path, something caught the corner of my eye. I saw a makeshift rock bench on a nearly-hidden trail, perpendicular to the one I was on. Oh what a nice rock, I wish it wasn’t raining so I could sit and relax for a little bit,” I thought to myself as I walked by… *Pullllll* says the inner sensation. I stutter step before I change directions and commit to walking off the comfortable path.

It’s funny how life rewards you for stepping out of your comfort zone.

This wasn’t just a rest stop, this was a new trail all on its own. I got exactly what I needed. I did not take ten steps before I felt like I was in a completely different habitat. And in truth, I kind of was in a different ecosystem. In ecology, there is something called the edge effect. Basically, certain plants and living organisms are more abundant at the intersection between foliage and meadows, or in my case, forest and sidewalk. I’ll explain the relevance of this soon.

The scenery I saw as I was walking down the paved path was not an honest representation of the majority of the forest that was just a couple of meters behind it. What an illusion!

It went from small shrub-lined concrete to pure rainforest. A place where there is so much rain, the plants, lichen, mosses, and fungi don’t even know what to do with themselves after completely colonizing the trunks and branches of everything in sight.

From this short detour, I gained some HUGE insights…

You truly cannot perceive what lays beyond your personal edge until you take those initial steps. This isn’t only applicable in national parks. What happens when you walk a new way to class, drive a new way to work, try a new type of sandwich or smile at the stranger behind you in the grocery store check out line?

You expand your horizons,
you gain experiential knowledge,
you gain wisdom.

Just because you cannot see the path ahead, it does not mean that it does not exist! All we can do at any moment is to take baby steps. Sometimes this steps aren’t glamorous like how we idealize the future to be. For example, when I was still at school I would spend hours per week looking for international jobs in my field. Yet, this was almost a waste of time. Why? I had to actually finish school, my classes, and my assignments before moving away ever could become a reality. Now that I have taken the initiative (and patience…lots of patience) to finish the forefront tasks, I can move on to bigger projects. Not only this, but more opportunities have presented themselves to me.
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Our journey through life is like sailing a boat. We keep our destination in mind and point our vessel in that direction. It takes time to make progress. A storm may come along and knock us around off course, but we always have the choice to return back to where we originally wanted to go or maybe a change in direction is what we needed all along. Keep on sailin’!

 

Starry Forest Floor: A journey with glowing mushrooms

Three years ago, I had the most wonderful opportunity to live on a tiny tropical island in Pacific Ocean near the Philippines. Although I could tell you a thousand things that happened, there was one night that stands out in my mind in a surprising way.

I was with three friends and we decided to take a night hike. I’m not sure how far it was, but we were out there for about four hours after sunset.

This trail was extremely rugged; it definitely brought out my adventurous side. We were undeniably in jungle land. Vines strong enough to swing from, enormous limestone rock formations, terrifying-looking but truthfully-harmless insects, singing birds, the love/hate relationship with constant humidity, and dense vegetation.

About halfway along the trail, we got to a “clearing.” It wasn’t necessarily a meadow, but trees went from being 3 feet apart to about 25 feet apart with very few bushes in between.

This new terrain made it extremely easy to see speckles of light kissing the forest floor all around me. I was an astronaut…but only it wasn’t the moon’s light getting past the tree canopy that gave the illusion I was in space.

The light was tinted bluish/green, and came from hundreds of bioluminescent mushrooms all around me.  I started to tear up at the sight. I’ve seen these mushrooms up close before this moment, yet it was a different experience to see the vastness they covered in the jungle rather than just innocently peaking out from behind a fallen log.

I’ve had a lot of experiences with nature, but this encounter blew them all away by far.

The lines between microcosm and macrocosm were blurred and all that I could do was surrender to the wonder of the universe.

(Image source unknown)

Embracing Feminine Energy

“It may seem as if others can add to, or take from, what you have and who you are.
Yet at the end of every day, what you have and who you are is entirely a function of your thoughts, beliefs, and expectations.”

Ungawa,
The Universe


The other morning I woke up to the quote above.  It reminded me of how much we waste subconsciously analyzing our self image, especially regarding what other people think.  What we assume about ourselves, in a huge way, is dependent upon others.

When we rid ourselves of these delusions, what are we left with?

The recognition of our true self and the stillness within us that is forever present when we acknowledge it.

This lays down the source for awakening to the radiance of feminine energy.

Terry Tempest Williams wonderfully explains the Feminine in her book, An Unspoken Hunger.  She says:

“I see the Feminine defined as a reconnection to the Self, a commitment to the wildness within—our instincts, our capacity to create and destroy; our hunger for connection as well as sovereignty, interdependence and independence, at once. We are taught not to trust our own experience…The Feminine teaches us experience is our way back home, the psychic bridge that spans rational and intuitive waters. To embrace the Feminine is to embrace paradox.  Paradox preserves mystery, and the mystery inspires belief.”

Williams points out the similarities between the natural world and our self.  Nature is mysterious and complete, as are we.  People are scared to explore deep within themselves, but doing so brings light to our entirety.  We begin to see through our layers of self, piled high from society’s misconstructions.

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After reading the chapter called ‘Undressing the Bear’ in An Unspoken Hunger, I decided to try a miniature experiment the following day.  I would fully embody the Feminine as much as possible from the moment I arose in the morning, until the time I laid down in bed that night to float off into the dream world.

And wow, what a peaceful day it ended up being! More than I anticipated, anyway.  As your mind is steadily staying still, there is no room for others to intrude into your inner space. 

Also during this day, my Mycology class took a field trip to Humphrey’s Peak to go mushroom hunting.  Walking among the mixed conifer and aspen with this attitude couldn’t have matched up any more perfectly.  Through accepting the Feminine, I was completely open to living my experience in nature to the fullest.

Although it’s easy to assert how well we should care for the environment, implementing social change and addressing the problems at their root is another story (Corbett 2006).

Connecting with nature is something that is best done through direct experience.  Experiences can alter beliefs and beliefs can alter one’s attitude.  Through experiences with nature, our attitudes about the environment will change.  We will start to be more aware of our surroundings and place in the world.  “Ecocentric ideologies recognize humans as an interdependent part of a larger biotic community and with a desire to behave more humbly toward the life systems that sustain them (Corbett 2006).”

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“The dominant Western world-view values reason (masculine-associated) over emotion (feminine-associated), rationality over intuition, civilized over primitive, knowing over feeling, mind over body, and culture over nature (Corbett 2006).”

Embracing the Feminine literally endows with us a new perspective of the world.  Feminine energy is sometimes personified as Mother Earth, Mother Nature, or Gaia.

Exploring, trusting and accepting our feminine side is a trust in the natural world itself.  We are nature.  While embracing our self, feminine side included, we embrace nature as a whole and acknowledge our place within it.


 

Communicating Nature by Julia B. Corbett

An Unspoken Hunger by Terry Tempest Williams

Mushroom Photos:  Jordan Pletzer

Unifying Contrasting Environmental Ideologies

There are many different beliefs surrounding the relationship between humans and the natural environment.

From the anthropocentric side, “the natural world is merely a storehouse of commodities for humans to use without restraint” (Corbett 2006). On the opposite side of the spectrum, ecocentric or biocentric attitudes state “humans are an interdependent, integral part of the biological world but no more or no less important than other portions of it” (Corbett 2006).  Because of this vast spectrum full of various perspectives, environmentalism can take form in many different ways.

Ideologies are deeply engrained beliefs we hold about something, which in turn influences the way we interact with that something.

In regards to environmental ideology, this means that our relationship with nature in actuality is a reflection of the personal ideals we embrace about it.

At times, different environmental ideologies can have extremely contrasting views.  On one end, some people believe nature has no other worth or value other than to serve and provide indefinitely for humans.  This group also tends to think of nature as a separate entity, and at the root of things, is actually intimidated or scared of Nature. In this belief system, called anthropocentricism, people consider themselves more refined and far superior compared to the rest of nature. Lulz.

Environmental thought then shifts towards conservation and preservation.  These are both still human-centered in a way, but with more respect and awareness towards nature.  Meaning, humans are still better than nature, but nature has resources it can provide for us that are best utilized in a sustainable way.  “We like you, so we are going to use you.”

The difference between conservation and preservation is subtle. Conservation makes every effort to use as wisely as possible what nature has made available for us.  Preservation takes this same concept but also adds that nature can also be treasured in a number of novel angles including ecological, aesthetic and religious expressions (Corbett 2006).

In a preservationist perspective, nature also has a non-utilitarian value.  For instance, we can go for a tranquil stroll within the forest and come back being revitalized.  Preservationists differ from conservationists because the former “continue to tap the powerful feelings and rhetoric of the romantic aesthetic to make their case for preserving the natural world” (Corbett 2006).

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“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.
It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
–Aldo Leopold

Aldo Leopold believed that people have responsibilities in how we interact with nature.  These ethics and values-driven environmental ideologies hold that life has an innate value that goes beyond any utilitarian intention.   Although humans are still considered to be separate from nature, the hierarchical differences aren’t as easy to detect compared to conservation or preservation.

Some modern day applications of ethics and values-driven environmentalism include ecofeminism, environmental racism, and Global South environmentalism.  All three examples comprise of a socio-interdisciplinary aspect in analyzing environmental issues.

Ecofeminism is the embodiment of the parallels between feminism and environmentalism.  Cole and Foster claim that “A focus of ‘women’ reveals important features of interconnected systems of human domination.”  To elaborate, the history of male-dominated cultures and ideologies can be compared to the constant disrespect and exploitation of nature from civilizations worldwide.

Environmental racism focuses on the social injustices that also result from environmental issues.  For example, “more toxic waste plants are built in communities of color, lead paint poisoning is more common among children of color, and the most dangerous uranium mining is done of Native American lands (Cole and Foster).”  In the video ‘The Economic Injustice of Plastics”, Van Jones points out how underprivileged people suffer from everybody’s choices. The burning of some plastics is done in poor, developing countries; the people living in this lone region suffer the costs of decisions made by others around the world.

This is very similar to Global South environmentalist beliefs, which state that the exploitation of ‘less-developed’ countries by the ‘over-developed’ counties can, at times, lead to environmental problems.

Environmental ideologies have a wide range of beliefs ranging from the utilitarian anthropocentric views all the way the all-encompassing biocentric values.

Finding the middle ground between these two extremes can be tough, seeing that not everybody is willing give something up to compromise. Although this is a challenge, it’s just a hurdle on the path to unity. The path where all humans acknowledge their humble place in Nature.

 


Communicating Nature by Julia Corbett

From the Ground Up by Cole and Foster

Photos:  Jordan Pletzer

The Way Towards Environmental Harmony

The attitudes and beliefs we have about the environment are shaped by both internal and external factors.

According to Julia Corbett, there are  three major influences on our environmental beliefs:  childhood experiences, a sense of place, and historical or cultural contexts.

“Even decades ago, psychologists knew that children’s experiences with nature had crucial and irreplaceable effects on their physical, cognitive, and emotional development…Earlier forms of a child’s knowledge are not lost as the child developed but are embedded, reworked, and transformed into more comprehensive ways of understanding the natural world and acting upon it.”

Taken from Communicating Nature, these statements bring up how influential our childhood experiences impact our lives further down the road.

What are kids truly learning and being exposed to?  While growing up, people take what they have previously been shown by the world and mold it into their own perception of reality.

As we grow up, our time spent directly with nature decreases remarkably. Our sidewalks around campus and downtown are mindfully decorated with trees and flower pots, but how much does this make up for the lack of true contact with nature and the endemic way life has evolved in this special region?

Most of the time, the way we interact with “nature” is almost completely vicarious, such as watching the annual Shark Week.  Watching a ratings-driven nature documentary is only symbolic of actually going out on a boat, miles away from the sight of shore and seeing a great white in person. Nothing can truthfully stand in for seeing a ginormous shark except that experience alone, but not everyone lives near the coast or has access to a boat. However, a week filled with watching nature documentaries sitting on your bum in a climate-controlled living room could never take the place of the raw experience of being out with nature itself, whatever the occasion is.

The majority of people living in the United States reside in cities.  The sight of an open meadow, an untouched mountainside, or rolling hills of green, untouched land are scarce for this huge group of people.  Corbett writes, “Your perceptions and evaluations of the environment in those places are expressions of place-based self-identity.”

Our personal beliefs and attitudes predict how we interact with the environmental.  Imagine traveling just north of Flagstaff on the 180 past Snow Bowl Road and turning onto an unpaved, barely marked forest road.  To an outdoor lover, this could be a new spot to go camp for the night, following the moral code of “Leave No Trace.”  A couple hours after sunrise the next morning, the only evidence would be footprints and a residual human smell.  Now, what if a few teenage boys came up from Phoenix for a weekend camping trip?  The same location might have some beer cans, food wrappers, or even broken glass and other trash littered around.  The way each of these two groups of people interacted with their environment is an example of “place-based-self-identify”.

From the beginning of European settlement in North America, nature was seen as an obstacle.  Corbett states, “Many settlers believed it was their Christian duty to impose control, civilize, tame, subdue, and in essence, denature nature.”  These early Americans had no remorse for nature on their westward journey.  Historically, forests were there only waiting to be chopped down for wood.  Nature was widely perceived to be a resource storehouse .

Our environmental beliefs and attitudes are influenced largely by our personal experiences growing up, our self-identity and how we perceive nature, and by the circumstances we are in now based on how we historically lived with nature.  These predisposed beliefs have an effect on environmental issues we currently face surrounding the use and abuse of plastic and water.

We need to start becoming aware of how our actions effect the environment, even if this wasn’t what we and our parents were traditionally raised to be mindful of. We are the future.


Communicating Nature by Julia Corbett (2006).