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Up Close and Personal With Nature

Nature infused the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright with passion and style. Everything from prairie houses that blended into the earth around them to the snail-like Guggenheim Museum in New York City, revealed his personal connection to nature. It’s not surprising that he taught his students to,

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.

Some people find their motivation to put their hearts into earth care by getting up close and personal with nature. Aldo Leopold, Paul Watson and Julia Butterfly Hill are three examples of people who became activists after significant experiences with nature.

Aldo Leopold was one of America’s most famous conservationists, but he wasn’t always an environmentalist. He was a hunter before he became he became passionate about conservation and ironically it was through hunting that it happened. A profound experience up close and personal with nature changed his life, and his motivation. Aldo was with a group of friends hunting wolves to clear the mountain in order to hunt deer. Aldo shot one particular wolf. He looked into the eyes of the dying wolf and watched a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. At that moment he realized that something in the mountain, something in him was also dying. It could not ever be recaptured. It was after looking at this fierce green fire dying that Aldo Leopold’s life was changed and he went on to become one of the most significant American environmentalists of the twentieth century.

More recently, the activist, Paul Watson had a similar experience. It was in 1975 and he and one other were on a small boat, resting between Russian whalers and a pod of whales. They naively believed that the hunters would not shoot while they were in the firing line. This changed when the captain walked on to the deck, motioned with a thumb as if to slit his throat and shot a harpoon that narrowed passed over their heads and struck a whale behind them, a female. A male whale immediately launched itself at the Russian boat but was harpooned in the head. It fell back in agony. This is when Watson’s life was changed. He caught the eye of the whale just before it fell back on his boat. It would have crushed them. He saw in the whale’s eye what he described as “understanding”. The whale appeared to tense its muscles one last time to avoid landing on their boat, thereby saving their lives.

The experience changed Watson so deeply that he committed his life to saving whales. He continues to do this, despite criticism. The criticism comes from conservatives and it comes from progressives who say that he damages their reputation with his cavalier approach. His answer to that is, “So!” He’s not doing it for them, and he’s not doing it for the organization. The whales are his clients and his concern.

One last example comes from Julia Butterfly Hill who in the late 1990s lived for 738 days inside a 180 foot tall, 1500 year old Redwood tree to stop it from being cut down by loggers. She named the tree that she got up close and personal with “Luna”. The happy ending to this story is that her sit-in at the top of the Redwood worked. Luna lived on, as did other trees in the area.

She said this,

I wake up in the morning asking myself what can I do today, how can I help the world today. I believe in what I do beyond a shadow of a doubt. I gave my word to this tree and to all the people that my feet would not touch the ground until I had done everything in my power to make the world aware of this problem and to stop the destruction.

That’s the sort of commitment we humans need to show. If you’re the sort of person who is motivated by getting up close and personal with nature, then create plenty of opportunities to do that. Remind yourself that your life is dependent on the life of the earth, and your life affects the earth in every moment.

Gaia is the Greek word for Mother Earth. James Lovelock developed a theory in the 1960s called the Gaia Hypothesis which basically says that the earth is one living organism. The earth is not rock, it is not a machine. It is one living organism. The Californian redwood tree is the perfect example. It’s a microcosm of the whole living system. The incredible thing about these awesome giants is that 97% of the tree is dead. The wood of the trunk and the bark that encases the tree are dead and there is only a thin layer of living organisms that are necessary for the exchange of gases. The thin layer is encased by bark to protect it. By virtue of the 3% of living matter the whole tree is alive. You can’t separate one part from the rest. That is the Gaia Hypothesis.

The majority of our world is not living. Yet by virtue of those small parts of the world that are living the whole earth is alive. It is one living organism and humans are one part of the system. Think of the oceans and the river as the blood of the earth. Think of the land as the bones of the earth. Think of the atmosphere as the lungs of the earth and all living matter including humans as the senses of the earth. It is all one living organism and as sentient beings we have the privilege of experiencing all this life as long as our pride doesn’t get in the way.

What are you passionate about? It may not be whales, or trees, but whatever it is, find it, study it, get up close and personal with it. Let it move you and change you. Let it bring your inner activist alive. Wake up every morning and ask, “What can I do to help the world today?”

This is part three in a series on earth care. Part two looked at climate change and human responsibility. Part four looks at the cosmic motivation. Part five offers an inspiration to persevere when it feels overwhelming or futile.

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