What is Man’s Relationship with Nature?
If I’m honest I haven’t, until this week, really explored exactly what our relationship as human beings is with Nature and what it really ought to be.
I have always been taught, from my Father, my Grandfather and many of my teachers that we are to respect Nature that we are only to take what we need, and no more, that we allow Nature to run its course and only interfere when its course has a direct impact upon us. I was also taught that Nature is our friend and that we can learn much about how the planet functions by observing Nature as the seasons unfold and roll one into another. As I grew up, I did so with a deep respect and awe for the natural life that was all round me.
Despite having this close connection and respect for Nature from quite an early age, the exact relationship that I had with Nature has never really been that obvious to me, nor had the general overall relationship that mankind has with Nature been that obvious to me.
Don’t Make Ripples
I was taught that Nature is like a still pond of water, and that every branch that I brush against or move to one side, every twig that snaps under foot, every foot print that I leave; it all creates ripples in the still pool that is Nature. That to move through Nature you do so without creating a single ripple.
To move through a dense wood in this manner can provide a level of entertainment for anyone watching, as you move, ducking and bobbing under and around branches, stepping over undergrowth, adjusting and moving your feet so as not to crunch leaves or break fallen twigs. To watch someone move through Nature without creating a ripple is like watching James Bond traverse a room of laser beams without breaking a single one.
To move in this way is to move as part of Nature and not apart from Nature, taking care to leave things exactly as they were before we arrived.
Take Only What You Need
As a child it was my Grandfather who used to take me out foraging in the fields and woods where he and my Grandmother lived.
It was he who taught me that I should only take that which I needed, and nothing more. When we would find the plant, brush or tree that we would be looking for, before we even started to take what we needed we would assess the area, the whole area not just the plant or brush that we had come to harvest.
My Grandfather would ask me questions like, will there be enough of the plant or bush left to allow it flourish and grow once we had taken what we needed? What would grow in the space that we created? What wildlife had been living off or on what we were taking and would it too flourish and grow if we took what we came for?
Before any harvesting was done we had to be satisfied that what we took would leave the area better off, or at the very least our foraging would have no negative impact on the area. No plant, leaf or branch would be removed unless we could see some benefit for Nature, be this creating light for new growth, thinning out plants so those that remained could grow stronger or removing the weak and infirm.
To my Grandfather the fields and woods beyond the boundary of his garden were also his gardens, and he would tend to them with the same love and compassion as he would to those areas just outside his back door.
It was almost as if my Grandfather was one of Nature’s gardeners.
Not Changing the Course of Nature
Nature is an unstopped force, and the sooner we learn to work with her the better off we all will be.
It is true that we can only change the course of Nature temporarily, but should we be changing the course of Nature at all? Well if it is going to impact on us directly in a way that could be perceived as negative then a sympathetic and compassionate nudge in a different direction is all that is needed but again considering the overall impact.
I remember many years ago that my parents and their neighbours were having problems with House Martins nesting in the eaves of the houses. Their neighbours took the instant and direct approach which was to remove the birds nest straight away. The only problem was that once House Martins start nesting in one spot they can be very difficult to encourage to move on. This neighbour removed nest after nest and each time the House Martins would return in greater and greater numbers to rebuild the nest, in the end this neighbour had to concede defeat, the number of birds, the speed with which they would build the nests and the ferocity that they would defend their homes to was too much, not mention the mess that they were making around the nest area and down the front of the house.
My Father on the other hand looked at the nesting birds, realised that they had already chosen their nesting spot, so left them to it for the summer, the nesting birds had their young and come the winter they started their winter migration. Once the House Martins had flown south for the winter, THEN my Father got out the ladders removed the nest and cleaned the area. Without any disturbance the birds left the area relatively clean, unlike the neighbour’s house.
The following summer the House Martins returned, however they didn’t return to my parent’s house only to the neighbours, who dutifully repeated the same routine as the previous summer with the same outcome.
My Father knew that he couldn’t stop Nature, or the birds nesting, so he let them do their thing, then once they left he discouraged them from returning, had they returned the following year to nest in the roof again I’m sure that he would have left them to it and removed the nest again at the end of the year. You see my Father knew that House Martins will return to their old nest year after year, unless the nest is removed then they are encouraged to find a new nesting site.
Symbiotic or Parasitic?
Unfortunately there are many people who view Nature as something that is there for their convenience that Nature is something that will never run out and that will always be there.
These people don’t have any concerns about creating ripples as they move through Nature, they move as if they are separate from Nature. I see them cutting up the land with 4x4s and off-road bikes, carving new paths for convenience through woods, chopping, cutting and removing just because it’s in the way.
Then there are those who feel that Nature is just there for them to make money, taking more than they would ever need, for security or greed. These are not just the multinational corporations, these also include your everyday folk, I know of people who will find a copsed Hazel then remove all the strongest and straightest boughs leaving only the weak and twisted, taking more than they need or taking all that they need from one tree leaving it weakened and susceptible. Everywhere you look you will find examples of people taking more than they need, or simply striping an area of what they need without the thought of future growth.
Finally there are those people who think that they can control Nature, like my Parents neighbours tried. You see people trying to control Nature all the time, using weed killers and pesticides to control Nature, but it’s only a temporary solution. Nature itself provides better and more permanent solutions to these problems, but some think that they know better, that they can do a better job than Nature. But all they are doing is killing Nature.
It would seem that Man has a very parasitic relationship with Nature. Taking all and giving very little.
That does seem to be a very pessimistic outlook but it is the extreme, and ultimately a parasite will kill its host. I personally don’t believe that everyone is like this and I am very hopeful that over the coming years that more and more people look at their personal relationship with the Great Provider, Nature.
The way that I see it is that we are to have a symbiotic relationship with Nature, one that benefits both, one that helps both to grow stronger. As ‘Grandfather’ aka Stalking Wolf would say “we are Nature’s Caretakers”.
Nature can provide all that we will ever need so long as we are the gardeners of Nature, the Caretakers of Nature. If we take what we need and in doing so help new and stronger growth, giving thanks for all we take, tending to the planet as if it were our own backyard. This is something that I see as the future, you can see small pockets of it popping up here and there, and slowly I see people changing the way they view their relationship with Nature. As people’s spirituality starts to awaken they slowly start to realise the symbiotic nature of their relationship with Nature. It’s not going to happen overnight but it will happen.
The indigenous peoples of the world already have a symbiotic relationship with Nature, they have learnt from a very early age that Nature will provide all that they need and that they in turn must provide something back. That their relationship with Nature is one of give and take, unlike many in the western world who take and give nothing back. What we give back to Nature is the love and compassion that will help Nature to grow stronger, and we do this but taking only what we need, when we take what we need to do so in a manner that will benefit Nature, weeding out the weak and infirm, creating space for new life to grow. We give back to Nature by being one of Nature’s Gardeners, by being Nature’s Caretaker, by looking after Nature.