Hidden Lessons of the Natural World
What is a Naturalist? The Artist… The Poet… The Explorer… The Scientist…
In the 1940s, The World Publishing Company Dictionary claimed that a Naturalist is:
One who studies the natural history and philosophy, or physics; especially , a botanist or zoologist; one who believes the philosophy and theological doctrines of naturalism; in fine arts, any author, sculptor or other artist who follows nature closely; also a believer in and advocate of naturalism in art.
Modern dictionaries leave out the artistic qualities of a naturalist all together. Why is that?
It wasn’t too long ago that the first American born naturalist William Bartram was sailing up the St. Johns River. The river was so full of clean spring water he could dip a cup off his boat and drink fresh water at the mouth of what is now known as Julington creek. We seem to have lost a connection to what he must have felt drinking straight from the river, and daring to experience the nights wonders, full of sounds and stars.
When I was younger growing up in Florida, I often found myself crawling in the mud or climbing trees, and watching the clouds go by. The fascinations of Native American culture and naturalist ideas became a life study after finding my first arrowhead in the sand. As a teenager I discovered I had many opportunities to ask questions of native elders in the surrounding communities. I was lucky that my father was like a beacon, bringing people together who cared about the teaching of indigenous cultures and knowledge of the earth. I was concerned that the stories, knowledge, culture and point of view of the nation’s first peoples was going to disappear due to modern times and the development of the land. A Muskogee Creek elder smiled when I decided to sum up the courage to ask my question. I longed awaited for the answer. “What happens if indigenous teaching are lost?”
He leaned back in his chair wiping humidity off his brow, smiled and asked me a question in return. This was expected and commonly a trait for an earth teacher in my view. Nephew, “where did we get it from?” as he motioned to the forest and the spring water flowing by us. “Do you want to know the hidden lessons of the secret world in nature? Then you must go out there and listen to what the earth is telling you, watch the relationship of the plants and the animal nations. The trees speak to us and the wind sings a song to those who are willing to do this. It can’t be lost if there is someone who can listen from the heart.” I thought about the heart connection and wondered if it could be taught.
It’s interesting how lessons from your past pop up in your today world. In the 904 Naturalist series that I teach balances the logic and the artistic sides of the brain and challenges the students to go out in nature to listen to the “hidden lessons of the secret world of nature.” One student in the “Exploring the Life of Mammals” class was learning about compression tracking in the field during one of our experiential field trips. Compression tracking is not in mud, sand or any common surface one would easily find tracks. Compression tracking is looking at tracks in debris – in this case, pine needles and leaf litter. He was so far within his logic brain way of thinking and using his passed training of the scientific mind set, he became frustrated and called me over before he completely gave up.
I asked a simple question,” are you frustrated, yet”? “YES” he said loudly with a contorted face. “Good” I said,” now you’ll be able to see the tracks.” He gave me a look as if combating sarcasm and I smiled. “If you understand that it takes an artistic mindset to become successful to track in leaf litter, and if emotion are a part of the right brain thinking where your artistic mind comes from, then getting frustrated lets your left logical brain shut down for a minute, so the right brain comes into action. Be ok with being frustrated for a minute and then look again. “
A few minutes later he yelled out “I see them! Come over here and check it for me.” Sure enough he was seeing hundreds of tracks where previously he saw only pine needles laying randomly on the earth. This student of the earth was a retired biologist who just discovered a new way to see nature. He continued to say to the class how this realization reminded him about how in our society today, we are told that anger, depression and frustration are not really an acceptable or even natural feelings, which can only be fixed with therapy or a pill. He disagreed with the socialization of this idea and explained how he only wants to be human with all the experiences that comes with. I leaned back against a pine tree wiping the humidity off my brow and smiled.
“When you change the way you look at things… the things you look at change…”