I feel like the English language is lacking in nuance when it comes to nature.
The romantic poets on the nineteenth century had one term for it: the sublime.
But they were talking about that sudden burst of spiritual transcendence-ecstasy that occurs when faced with nature's magnificence. The dramatic view that would send you to the 'ever lasting universe of things' (as Percy Shelley puts it in Mont Blanc).
- What about the open curiosity one experiences while heading into the woods on a hike?
- What about the quiet contemplation that occurs when staring out to open water?
- What about the excitement/fear of being in an open field while a storm is heading towards you and you can smell it on the air?
- What about the serenity of gazing at the moon in the sky? Or the quick leap in the pulse when it emerges from behind a cloud?
Look! The moon! Tonight it's a sickle moon and sharp as a knife point!
We need more words to describe these moments!
This idea came to me when I was reflecting upon my experience a few weeks ago at the Climate Reality Leadership training in Toronto (hosted by Al Gore).
At one point in the conference, we were encouraged to 'share our stories' with our table mates. That is, share our stories about why we had come to be at this conference.
This was a very interesting exercise! Like me, every one there had experienced an inner shift at some point in their lives. Something inside that said 'I need to do something about the environment'. I need to protect it, speak about it, paint it, write about it, advocate on its behalf.
Everyone had their own story to tell about what had caused the shift inside.
Perhaps the most dramatic example that I heard came from one of the conference speakers, who used to work for the oil and gas industry but became so upset with what was going on that he switched careers. He now works for the David Suzuki Foundation.
As to my table group, what really struck me was how many of us expressed a connection to nature. 'I grew up in nature' 'I like being in nature' 'I want to protect nature'.
I paraphrase, but it was a concept oft repeated: nature is important to me,
I kinda always knew that for myself but I hadn't really said it out loud before.
I grew up in a variety of small towns in Ontario. Nature was literally at my back door. I played outside all the time, riding bikes, making forts out of sticks and pine needles or snow. We lived along side lakes, rivers. I spent every summer at a beach, in the water.
Even when we moved to a (mid sized) city, it was on Lake Ontario and our house was steps away from a natural beach.
Oh, the many days of my adolescence, walking that beach, staring out into the wind at the water, and thinking deep thoughts about the latest high-school drama!
(That experience in itself needs its own term. What word can we create for a teenage form of nature-soothed-angst?).
When I think about it, all my life nature has been there, a consoling presence in the background.
This past Spring, around the time I started this blog, I also started taking what I call the 'nature pic of the day' and posting it on Twitter. I started looking around me, really looking, and snapping photos with my phone of whatever aspect of 'ordinary nature' struck my fancy. The sky that day, a tree trunk, the view from the lake (yes, again I live near a lake).
I hadn't made the connection to this blog, I just started taking photos 'for fun'--but now I realize: my appreciation of my natural environment and this blog are the same impulse differently realized.
With words, with images, I feel the need to document how an average, ordinary person (ie: me) can appreciate the ultimate preciousness of our natural world, and thus, promote that compulsion within myself--and perhaps within you?--to see it properly safe guarded.
That moment of realizing the preciousness of our natural world? That inner shift inside that calls one to take action on its behalf?
We need specific words for it!
(I propose eco-empathy for the first, green-epiphany for the later. What do you think?)
PS. Recent studies have shown the importance of nature on our psychological well being. Science is documenting that which has long been known. Nature is awesome!
PPS. If this post hasn't made it clear yet, go outside and make friends with nature!