On a recent visit to the Pink Palace Museum in Memphis, my wife and I watched an Omnimax film called The Great Barrier Reef. Told through the eyes of Jemma Craig who grew up on a barrier island, it’s an urgent appeal to preserve this 1,400-mile ecological treasure.
As I sat there, it happened numerous times—those moments of wonder in the face of our natural world, even when transmitted through celluloid. Please forgive my repeated exclamations.
- Tens of thousands of green sea turtles gathering at their largest rookery, Raine Island. They migrate up to 1600 miles to reach the exact beach of their birth. How do they do it? By relying on Earth’s magnetic fields. Each part of a coastline has its own magnetic signature, which the animals remember and later use as an internal compass. Awesome!
- Pictures of endangered giant manta rays swimming together, some of them as big as 23 feet wide and weighing 6,600 lbs. Awesome!
- The reef’s many species of coral simultaneously releasing their mixture of eggs and sperm into the sea, as numerous as stars in the night sky. Awesome!
Like so many of you, I am drawn to nature because of its perfect intricacy, its reminder to just BE rather than DO, to humbly experience my place in the web of life. As a friend of mine says, this is what “stiches him into the fabric of the universe.”
These moments resonate from deep in my childhood. I remember walking on a hillside covered in wild mustard so tall it reached my forehead. I laid on my back and looked up through blossoms teeming with bees and butterflies, a sky of sailing clouds beyond them. The veil between observer and observed vanished.
I once read a compilation of Jiddu Krishnamurti’s writings that remains with me. He spoke of how our perception causes us to stand apart from the world rather than experience harmony within it. This disconnection is at the root of our cancerous treatment of the environment—bending it, shaping it, paving it to fit the contours of “progress.”
Krishnamurti’s words can seem odd to Western minds riddled with binary thinking. “There is no division between the world and you,” he said. “You are the world.” The key, he said, is in how we perceive, summed in these words.
“Can you see with your eyes the tree as a whole? Do you understand my question? Can you see anything totally, or are you always seeing partially? Are so we caught up in our own network of problems, our own desires, our own urges of pleasure and pain that we never look around, never watch the moon? Watch it. Watch with all your eyes and ears, your sense of smell—watch. Look as though you are looking for the first time. If you can do this, that tree, that bush, that blade of grass you are seeing for the first time. Then you can see your teacher, your mother and father, your brother and sister, for the first time. There is an extraordinary feeling about that: the wonder, the strangeness, the miracle of a fresh morning that has never been before, never will be.”
As a Master Naturalist, I join my fellow volunteers in passing on our knowledge of the natural world. We can catalogue flora and fauna; we can name those forces that shape the landscape and atmosphere. All this science surely deepens our appreciation of the planet. But perhaps the most vital thing we impart is to see our world through the perspective of harmony, a vision that instills a desire to cherish, protect, and nurture the gift of Earth.
There is so much dire evidence about the decline of our environment. We see it everywhere. On the very morning I am posting this blog, the U.N. has issued a new warning about the escalation of climate change.
Yet, I cling to the hope that more and more of us can be the change we want to see.
We can be a part, not apart.