Nature immersion: a positive feedback loop

Nature immersion: a positive feedback loop

Sitting on the cold sand, I feel euphoric. I even feel a little sick, or perhaps just giddy with the emotion of it.

Sensorily overwhelmed, yet still and calm.

The sea gently laps up in front of me, and drags away again. If I dig my toe into the sand I can find a tiny bioluminescent creature, glowing at my disturbance. In the distance, there’s the faint roar of the ocean against the reef that protects our sheltered island. I perceive the movement of a small ray in the shallows, almost invisible in the moonless night.

I am a ten-year-old on an empty beach with her family, and this is the first time it really hits me in a spiritual way. The power of the wild.

Repeatedly, I sought to capture that feeling again. Unbeknownst to me, I had begun a system of positive feedback that would determine the course of my life.

I stood silently amongst ferns and grasses at my grandparents’ bush block, watching the fairy wrens bicker and caress. I sat still enough that a troupe of scrubwren fledglings clambered across my lap, their parents scolding their foolishness.

I lay in the sand between reefs as five female green turtles grazed companionably around me. We rose together to breathe, and sank bank to the floor, surrounded by innumerable other lives.

Time after time I felt connections with life that drove my obsession and craving further. Using all my senses, together, or by turns, I focus my brain to appreciate them better. Touching plant surfaces, tuning into the ocean breaks or bird calls, soaking up scents or visual feasts and feeling at peace with the insane immensity of it all.  And yes, licking green ant butts. My apologies to all the green ants out there that have or will be licked in their lifetime.

The feedback was not only emotional and visceral, but intellectual as well. I was curious about natural history, and the more that I discovered, the more there was to learn. Over time, I became increasingly curious and knowledgeable, and sought to know all the birds around me, then fish, then insects, now plants. There is literally no end to the discovery when the world is your laboratory. What a thrilling feeling.

Over the years, this compulsion has driven my choices of studies, work and surroundings. The volunteering that I undertook, the places I visited on weekends. Because of all that I have learned and experienced, I feel compelled to protect it and help others find their own connection. Now that so much of my life is wrapped up in my PhD and Remember The Wild and I am out so much for work, it just intensifies it, driving my need for nature such that I have to find it in my everyday as well. I now know that it is possible to feel homesick for a tree or a magpie, to feel anxious and heartsick at the thought of living far from the coast.

It’s important for me to remember that not all my friends, and not all people, feel the same craving for, and obsession with, the natural world as I do. I know some think I’m a bit crazy, and are grumpy that I seem to disappear most weekends, and I need to remember to care for all of my human relationships as well. But I also think that everyone has the potential to foster this appreciation within themselves, simply by accessing it more often. The benefits for individual, community and environment are clear.

What is it that you love about nature, or the outdoors, or simple peace and serenity? Take that feeling, and let yourself experience it more. Involve your loved ones and let it become routine.  Build that craving, and see what it teaches you about the world around you. Your heart and mind will thank you for it.

All images courtesy of Cathy Cavallo.

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