Humanity is exalted not because we are so far above other living creatures, but because knowing them well elevates the very concept of life.
— Edward O. Wilson, Biophilia
It’s May already. I feel like the last few months of winter and the first of Spring blend and meld and then suddenly it’s ninety degrees Fahrenheit and everything is green. I have been busy and all together not so busy–work and life and dirty dishes. I still walk through nature often enough. I take a three-mile walk every week through the suburbs and over two ridges each two hundred feet tall and not evenly sloped.
Part of my walk is dedicated to a quaint community park with a fair amount of wooded slope, a small field and playground, and a popular fishing pond. I normally pass through quickly to try to get right home and relax my feet (three miles of mostly paved walking surface is not pleasant). But today I slow my pace to get a good look around. I find some beautiful white violets and notice the oaks beginning to leaf. Suddenly, a black-throated blue warbler jumps out and startles me. I have never seen a male black-throated blue before and my heart races with excitement. I’ve also never been this disappointed not to have a camera and instead I watch the bird for a few minutes, committing the image to my memory–the small bird with striking slate blue on his back and a handsome black patch on the throat and cheeks with a streak of black on each side all the way to the tail contrasting the white of his belly and a single small white patch on each wing to emphasize the difference between the blue and black. After posing for an overly long moment, the warbler flits off into the canopy without a sound disappearing into the bright green foliage and dark branches of the trees.
I walk with a brighter spirit now on this same trail I walk from week to week. Despite the paved path straining my footsteps I enjoy every bright green leaf and flitting bird. The winter blues that dampened my spirit have finally released me into a bright green paradise filled with life all around me. The tops of trees one hundred and more feet tall with squirrels and birds leaping and chirping from limb to limb. The vast carpet of grasses and wildflowers and the root systems woven together with fungi and enriched by microbial communities and underground cities and suburbs of insects. And the deer, raccoons, foxes, hawks, owls, opossum, groundhog, coyote, crow, and others too large to remain invisible but that manage to eke out a living in between man’s motorized roadways and concrete fortresses. These green and wild and living surfaces around our homes are representative of man’s relationship to nature; our appreciation for the beauty of the landscape and the spectrum of color that nature provides from season to season; our desire to find peace on Earth in delightful birdsong and dense quiet woods; and our curiosity in the workings of life from a butterfly’s life cycle to the great exchange of energy and matter across the globe–water cycles, weather patterns, geological movement, the sun’s radiation, etc.
However, even with all the selfish and personal reasons for community parks, the idea that man is selfless enough to reserve a fraction of the man-made community for the natural community speaks to a greater purpose for nature in our lives. It seems there is some quality of nature that enlightens the mind. Edward O. Wilson, the renowned Harvard entomologist and author, popularized the word biophilia–originally the biophilia hypothesis suggesting an innate connection between people and other living things and natural systems. Wilson’s use of the word was more direct as man having an urge to connect with nature. Biophilia is perhaps what drives us to preserve land, donate to charities that protect wildlife, adopt animals from shelters, and keep houseplants and maintain gardens. But there is also a rejuvenation within nature that man seeks. Our senses are bathed in nature’s bounty every time we go camping, hiking, biking, running, gardening, walk the dog, fish, hunt, kayak, or even walk through a community park. A park might be surrounded by city, but nature seems to shelter us from all the toxicity–loud machines, smogged air, harsh sun and heat, and hectic, frenzied motion. It is as if the tree provides shade so that we might linger there for a moment more.