Before sitting down to write this, I went for a walk. There is a municipal park near my apartment with a large open field. I often daydream about spending a night out there (though perhaps when it is warmer). Last night, it snowed about six inches and I wanted to spend some time in the snow. There is a road which circles around the park with two large fishing ponds nestled against the northern edge. Across the road to the west flows the Racoon River visible through the thin line of trees where the river bends to meet a thin shore beneath the road. I walked the circumference which I would guess to be about a mile around containing perhaps fifty acres of open, flat field. Wind had swept snow into drifts which I can recall using for tunnels and forts during precious snow days of cancelled school.
I miss the closeness, the immediacy of nature. I sometimes feel torn between the comforts of living and the rawness of life just outside the window. This longing to restore our connection with the natural world resides beneath and within the humming and drumming of our daily lives. But how? Where do we start? What examples do we have to integrate and cultivate a mutually beneficial relationship with nature? How can this become a social standard? These are questions which saturate my days and sometimes surface in the still hours before I fall asleep.
A story which Robin Wall Kimmerer retells in Braiding Sweetgrass concerns a survey she gave some undergraduate students in her General Ecology class. They were asked, among other things, to rate their knowledge of positive interactions between people and the environment. The median response was "none". These were third-year students who had chosen a career in environmental protection.
I think that this belies a certain tension which is found in individuals who engage in environmental work. We are inundated with examples and experiences, policies and habits which are born from a way of life which considers itself separate from the natural world. We simultaneously work from within this system in the hope that we can change it and adopt a way of life more in tune with that of nature. The results of this survey also belies a certain hopelessness and cynicism that humans and nature are a bad mix.
In writing Braiding Sweetgrass, Ms. Kimmerer recognizes this phenomenon and relates stories which give a breath of fresh air to those of us who find it difficult to imagine a world in which we can live in greater harmony with nature.
Our days pass by and we continue to wonder how to make this possibility a living, breathing reality. We take walks. We read. We listen. Slowly we realize that, in this effort, we are not alone.
Daniel serves as the education coordinator for the Energy & Community team in Des Moines, IA. In this capacity, he is interested in the history of our relationship with the natural world and how our perceptions change over time. He is one of the hosts of the Green Iowa Pod, which is Green Iowa AmeriCorps' platform for environmental education material. Previously, he studied biomedical engineering and served in the Peace Corps as a high school teacher in Cameroon.