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Archive for March, 2018

My last post was about the link between nature connectedness and happiness, making this an appropriate spot to take a broader look at the important concept of nature connectedness. Specifically, I would like to provide a picture of what nature connectedness looks like “in the flesh” – in a person’s behaviour, in other words. Such a picture enables us to recognise a nature connected person when we meet them. It may also broaden you own awareness and appreciation of yourself.

First let me sketch the picture in broad strokes.

A nature connected person:

  • yearns to be in contact with nature as much as possible
  • has a strong emotional attachment to nature
  • is driven by a desire to know more about nature
  • feels a sense of kinship with the inhabitants of the natural world
  • has a strong and active commitment to the welfare of nature
  • has nature woven into their sense of self

A person displaying these characteristics can truly be regarded as having a “friendship” with nature. Indeed, if you substituted “another person” for all the references to “nature” in the five points, you would have a pretty complete definition of conventional friendship.

One of the most nature connected people you could hope to meet is Revol Erutan (ee-root-tan), known as Rev to his friends and acquaintances. Rev is the walking and talking embodiment of what it means to have a deep “friendship” with nature.

He spends much of his leisure time bushwalking, canyoning and rock climbing. By profession he is a horticulturalist, having chosen that career ahead of other options he had. The extent of his contact with the natural world is certainly a pointer to his nature-connectedness, but it is not a fully reliable indicator. For a better one, you need to ask what motivates Rev’s nature activities. Contrary to what you might expect, his motivation has less to do with achieving performance or ego-enhancing goals, such as completing a demanding walk or managing a challenging rock climb, than with the joy, peace and other “intrinsic” delights of simply being in nature. For Rev, there does not have to be a reason for seeking nature experiences – in the same way that just being with a loved one is an end in itself. In the spirit of the Scandinavian philosophy of Frituftsliv, Rev simply seeks the companionship of nature.

Rev clearly has a love of nature. The efforts he makes to maintain regular contact with domesticated as well as “wild” nature indicate that. So too does the confidence he has that nature does all kinds of “good things” for people. There is no “perhaps” or “maybe” about this as far as Rev is concerned. As a result, he constantly wants to share his nature experiences with others. He enjoys leading bushwalks especially to places that are favourites of his because of their natural beauty, peace and tranquillity. When they are with him in the bush and indeed in the gardens where he works, people can’t help noticing his energy and enthusiasm as he constantly draws attention to plants, birds, animals and features of the landscape. He seems to more “tuned-in” than most other people to the beauty, awe and wonder of the natural world and to the restorative power of nature. He reports having a strengthened sense of vitality when he is close to nature. After time away in the bush, Rev usually returns with the “bushwalker’s glow, an emotional high characterised by feelings of well-being and bonhomie. Not surprisingly, he feels regret, even sadness, when he has to leave the bush behind. Rev strongly believes that Harold Thurman (1899-1981; theologian and civil rights leader) has got it right when he says:

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

Even though his horticultural training puts him ahead of most other people as far as understanding plant behaviour and ecology are concerned, Rev never seems to tire of observing and investigating nature. He is always on the lookout for insects, animals, flowers and notable landscape features. He seems to have a sharper awareness of the natural environment than most other people. Not surprisingly, he is an avid watcher of nature shows on TV and subscribes to several outdoor and conservation magazines. He also has an impressive kit of bushcraft skills. Lighting a fire in steady rain is no problem to him, for example. Altogether Rev’s confidence in his knowledge and skills allows him to feel very much “at home” in wild places.

For Rev, other living creatures are much more than objects to be studied. He respects them and strongly defends their right to an uncompromised existence. He would detour around an orb spider’s web stretching across a bush track rather than damage it. Sensitive and caring behaviour of this kind is his typical modus operandi in nature, reflecting the empathy he has with all living creatures and the world on which they depend. He gets enormous pleasure from chance moments spent in the presence of a wombat, wallaby, echidna, water dragon or other citizens of the bush. He is distressed and angered by attitudes and actions that threaten the well-being of nature’s inhabitants – large and small; beautiful and ugly, benign and dangerous (deadly pathogens excepted). Although hunting for “sport” is anathema to him, he admires those indigenous hunting cultures that have succeeded in living off nature sustainably. Rev would say of himself that he feels a genuine sense of kinship with other creatures. There are no strings attached to his relationship with nature. It has the quality of encounter, an I-you rather than an I-it relationship. He accepts nature as it is, with all the challenges it can pose and the discomforts it can deliver. He has no desire to change nature or to “overcome” it.

Rev’s kinship with nature fires a very active commitment to sustainability and conservation. He is a “greenie” – not in the political but the practical sense. On the home front, he is an exemplary re-user and recycler. Although an apartment dweller, he maintains a worm farm and has managed to get a compositing system operating in his block (the compost goes to a nearby community garden where Rev helps out). In relation to the conservation scene, he is a member of at least two environmental organisations and participates in rallies, marches and other activities concerned with the welfare of the natural environment.

If Rev were ever to talk about himself at any length, you would learn that his sense of who he is – his sense of identity – is tightly bound up with his experience of nature. His image or concept of himself is highly coloured by the feelings, attitudes and values he has towards the natural world and by what he does in and for nature. It would be very clear that he feels at one with nature, not only intellectually but also emotionally and spiritually. He does not see himself as separate from the natural world but part of it – belonging to nature as much as nature belongs to him.

It will come as no surprise that Rev attributes much of his happiness and well-being to nature. He is testimony to the value of being a “nature person”. We could do a lot worth than aspiring to be like him.

Time now to come clean: there is no actual person, Revol Erutan (Perhaps his name – “nature lover” in reverse – may have made you suspicious), but there is a reality behind the fiction. He is a composite of real-life nature connected people I know personally or from autobiographical accounts. More than that; he faithfully reflects observations and data from formal studies of nature connectedness and nature connected people. He may not exist in fact, but many others like him certainly do.

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