Thursday, November 24, 2011
Primal Birding; or, the need for nature
November is a good month to think about things. I've come to like the late fall season less since I've gotten more into birding because, at least for me, it's just not very exciting on that front. But in terms of going out on a nature walk, I've enjoyed this season as long as I've enjoyed being outside so, in other words, ever since I can remember.
And as I've strolled the woods and prairies recently, enjoying the antics of American tree sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, tufted titmice and a variety of woodpeckers (downy, hairy, and red-bellied for the most part), it's occurred to me how, at all times of the year, these jaunts are absolutely vital to my mental and physical well-being. I simply cannot imagine how I would survive without access to regular outings somewhere peaceful and outside, surrounded by trees, grasses, birds, wind, water. It's when I feel the most content, and how I step away from the aggravations and outright B.S. of day-to-day life, and, I must admit, distance myself from my own neurotic tendencies. Of course, I love to see the birds. But in a way, a good birding day is just the icing on the cake.
Of course, I am not the only one who feels this way. In his book The Nature Principle, Richard Louv mentions many different ways that being in natural surroundings, even highly artificial ones, benefits adults and children alike, with positive effects ranging from decreased stress to improved health (mental and physical) to greater memory and learning abilities, and many of these effects have been demonstrated in studies. Those who have been following my blog might remember that, in previous posts, I was actually kind of harsh in my discussion of Louv's book, but the reason for that was not because I disagree with the importance of the natural world for human health.
What bothered me about the book was that he pulled back from what seemed the most obvious conclusion. Instead of discussing how we humans have strayed too far from the kind of environment in which we thrive, he makes the case for a "hybrid mind" in which we post-modern people can use judicious amounts of "vitamin N" (for Nature) to become a "high-performance human" -- that is, to be more "productive" in our stressful, artificial daily routines.
It's not that I am unsympathetic to the need to make a living. Not all of us can really get "back to the land." I myself must, for the time being, spend my working days trapped indoors, forced to sit in front of a computer screen and be as "productive" as I can. I just never feel that it's a worthwhile way to spend my time. I am not a "hybrid" anything. I have always known exactly where I belong: walking in the woods. Identifying plants and birds. Listening to all the sounds around me, senses keen. My time in nature taps into something timeless and wonderful; it makes me feel alive. My time in cities and office buildings or big box stores or being stuck in traffic makes me feel, well, to be honest, less than fully alive: stressed out, anxious, bitchy, neurotic, sometimes even a little bit cut off from the world.
I have been saying for a long time, "We are just not meant to live like this!" Luckily for me, I am not the only one who feels this way; in fact, I have recently discovered several "primal" and "paleo" websites on the Internet, some of which bring up a whole range of topics such as this post about being in nature from Mark's Daily Apple, my new favorite non-birding website.
The stillness and austerity of November help push me to think about my place in the world; the contrasting hyperactivity of the "holiday season" is an interesting contrast to that inward pull, and one that I resist as much as possible. I am truly starting to loathe "the holidays" -- and it has nothing to do with hating on Christmas, Hanukkah, the winter solstice or even Kwanzaa. This has been a sacred time of year for a very long time, I'll just put it that way.
What I hate is that this has also become the peak time for consumerism, which seems to have its own holy day now, "Black Friday." I promise you that I am not about to go off on a rant. Satisfying as it may be to express one's strongly held opinions, there is nothing so tedious as reading someone else's.
I'll just sum up by saying what I'll be doing tomorrow: going birding, and for a long walk in nature, then coming home to play with my dogs and prepare some healthy food. I'll get plenty of fresh air and exercise and I won't spend a single dollar or step into a single store. And I think that's the way I'm supposed to live.