People all turn to nature in different ways and will respond differently. But one common thread running through nature’s impact on wellbeing is the otherness of nature – how it becomes an opportunity to stand back from our own experiences, thoughts and needs, and to see differently.
My last nature-themed blog post focused on a particular book as a way of going on connecting with nature during winter. That was about travel to Antarctica – the first book I’mm thinking about today is on whales. It is Philip Hoare’s “Leviathan or, The Whale”. It’s got me thinking how immersing yourself in the life of another species can be a way to absorb your mind and to gain a new perspective.
Nature moves at a slower pace, and other species’ lives may seem simpler than our own, but they can be far more complex than we think or know. Philip Hoare calls whales far more ‘other’ than any other species, because of their vast size and scale. Whale watching he finds awe-inspiring, envying the whales’ freedom and ocean life. Later he dives and swims with whales, an experience which transfixes him. The book also explores the dark side of human interaction with whales in the long history of whaling, and Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick os integral to Hoare’s writing.
Clearly it is true, as Philip Hoare says, that the whale is in a class all its own. But few of us will ever see or swim with whales in the wild. Encounters with more local species may be less dramatic but still have a strong impact on us, as we glimpse what it is to be another creature Megafauna may mystify and excite us, but so can all wildlife.
In his book Beauty and The Beast, Hugh Warwick met about a dozen people who have all become closely connected with one particular wildlife species. Some are scientists, others enthusiasts, even obsessives. All spend considerable time searching out “their” species to learn, observe and understand. Some species, like sparrows and robins, were easier to find; others, like otters, bats and moths, required patience, dedication and good weather. Several of the people shared how “their” species gave a sense of purpose to their lives and helped them through struggles and difficult times of their own.
Maybe it’s this focus on a particular species which is important. That way you can delve deeper, learn more, maybe record what you see for a body like the UK Biological Records Centre. A deeper awareness would help you immerse yourself in that species’ wider habitat and see how it interacts with other species. Think of one species you might try to observe more closely, maybe a local species you can find easily, or maybe a far away species you might never see in the wild. Technology has brought wildlife far closer to us. Thinking of whales, try listening to whale song today, or search online for underwater photos of whales. Sound and image too open up new worlds to enhance our lives.
Empathy, awe and wonder – or simply living in the moment as a bird takes off in flight, or a dragonfly hovers. Seeing life through another species’ eyes – which species will you focus on? It would be great to hear any responses in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Thank you!