As the early dawn breaks it’s first light through your window and you wake to the sounds of birds who have already gotten a head start on their day, a wave of daily tasks and issues rush into your mind. Do you hear the birds? Who is greeting you this morning? To know the bird outside your window is a privilege we often take for granted. The general disconnection between people and their local ecosystems has allowed many of these species to quietly disappear unnoticed, but with huge consequence. With no understanding of their value, or presence, it is easy to build our world over-top of the lives of others without understanding our contribution to the damage of ecosystems and biodiversity. Every animal can teach us a lesson about enjoying the present, as well as our place in an incredibly intricate and delicate ecosystem in which we most assuredly play a role every day. To watch a Common Eastern Bumble Bee (Bombus impatiens) dance in the pollen from your garden unites us to the soil, roots, flowers, insects, birds, larger mammals and ultimately ourselves.
Who is your neighbour? What is their name? This is the most basic, fundamental part of getting to know someone. Knowing their name is to recognize their existence as an individual.
Like many other birds, the Ruby Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) returns to the same nesting ground every year after making the inconceivable journey from Mexico. To observe this bird in your yard, year after year is not only a marvel of agility and colour, but of the tenacity of an ecosystem that is composed of a complex order of individuals that each rely on the other for survival. Knowing this individual is the basis of caring and stewardship.
Other birds like the Ravens or crows, bluejays and chickadees are the same individuals or descendants from the same families that occupied that space, and have called it home for generations. This is the same for many mammals; the bears that migrate through your yard have used it as part of their territory, finding food and teaching their young the same skills in each habitat for years.
The problem with living in a bubble without observing and getting to know what is around you and how all these beings interconnect, is that this lifestyle is not sustainable. We are running out of resources to upkeep the life we want. A major contributing factor to the mindset of dominion, is the idea that the Earth is for human enjoyment and expenditure. Also we have been led to believe that “one individual will not make a difference, for worse or for better”, and await large-scale change. This approach has proven to be unreliable and ineffective. Our disconnection starts with ignorance (as innocent as it may be). We do not care for those we do not know exist and which we do not understand. Therefore passion and connection to local wildlife is essential to facilitate conservation and sustainability. This starts with curiosity and exploration.
A fellow wildlife artist and ecologist –and a personal role model of mine, Robert Bateman, has spent a lifetime painting, teaching and sharing the wonders of nature to people of all ages. His a philosophy and mission is explained in his book, “Think Like A Mountain”:
“We’ve lost our respect for other species partly because we don’t even know their names. Names matter. Any teacher knows how students value being recognized by name. Hunter-gatherer peoples in the tropical world can identify thousands of species of plants and animals, but the average North American can manage only ten…yet can recognize about a thousand corporate logos. We need to reverse this situation fast –and the best way to do this is through education” (Bateman, 27 Think Like A Mountain).
The good news is that the solution to this issue is fun! To slow down and view the world with the inquisitiveness of a child; to marvel and the small miracles taking place in one’s own backyard is a thrill that never gets old. Wait and watch the fireflies before you cut down and “clean up” the slopes and shores on your property. Look up and observe the night skies before you light them up with unnecessary glares from night lights. Patience has its rewards; watch the deer before you feed them to observe their individual grace of survival. Even the bear chooses your yard to dwell or traverse, and it will teach you about medicines. No animal is preoccupied with the idea of harming us. Instead, they are humble, and timid survivors in their own rite.
Exploration and discovery
We all know and love the excitement of learning something new that inspires us. This is the spark that ignites passion, learning and sharing.
– Learn the names of the plants, insects and animals you discover in your area. Starting with one or two individuals that catch your attention. This can be done using field guides (books or online), identification apps on your phone, such as iNaturalist, and/or internet searches from reliable sources such as your local conservation authority.
– What are they doing? Observe the actions and unique character of these individuals. Even for a minute or two at a time. Each individual has a unique and quirky personality that can be very entertaining!
– Get outside! Exploring familiar and new places creates lifelong memories, and has been proven to benefit overall wellbeing.
Recording your experiences and discoveries
Keeping a tally of the species you find is positively addicting. As you watch the numbers pile up, it is shocking to realise how much diversity we live amongst. Many field guides have checklists in the back, where you can see the sheer amount of wildlife that could otherwise have been missed. What a shame that would be! The following are some record keeping options:
-Nature apps such as iNaturalist
-Photography and social media such as an Instagram account
Expressing the beauty of nature is irresistible. The artistic inspiration is endless.
-Photography and video
-Poetry and creative writing
-Song writing and music making
By slowing down, and taking the time to learn about nature, our lives become rich in culture and community. The social connection to our spaces will enrich our lives as well as enable the protection of wildlife. Who is your neighbour? What are their names?
Written by Stacey Kinder
Bateman, R. and Archbold, R., 2002. Thinking Like A Mountain. Toronto: Penguin Books, p.27.