This issue of Nearby Nature Project is shorter than usual. I’m up against a hard deadline before we head out on an expedition cruise to Antarctica. Since access to wi-fi will be limited to non-existent, I’ll be scheduling this post to publish while we’re away and keeping my fingers crossed that everything works properly!
While definitely not nearby, our Antarctica trip is all about Nature – the landscape and the fauna at the southern end of the world. One aspect of expedition cruising I’m really excited about is the onboard educational lectures. Another is being immersed in a completely unfamiliar landscape, observing completely unfamiliar animals. One thing I’m kind of dreading? Crossing the Drake Passage. Here’s hoping we have more of a “Drake lake” than a “Drake shake” experience. 🙂
A camera brand that’s all about Nature?
We went all-in on Olympus camera gear starting in 2010. A couple of years ago, Olympus sold its camera division for focus more on medical imaging. We took a bit of a wait-and-see attitude, when the deal closed in early 2021. Since then, OM System has continued the Olympus practice of meaningful firmware updates, has launched a new camera body and brought out several new lenses. Now we both carry the latest camera (branded the OM-1) and it’s what I use for most of the photographs I share in the Nearby Nature Project.
In late October, OM System articulated its philosophy through a series of short videos and blog posts. In a nutshell, it’s grounded in Kacho Fugetso, a 600 year old Japanese philosophy of continuous self-discovery through nearby nature.
According to OM-1, Kacho Fugestso is grounded in four elements of nature – flower, bird, wind and moon. And their cameras “facilitate a life of curiosity and joyful discovery, enabling you to explore nature’s beauty and, perhaps, uncover forgotten parts of your own being.”
I am enjoying the video series and the remarkable photographs embedded in each. And I appreciate the serendipity of shooting with photo gear that’s from a company that’s oriented towards Nature. But it does feel somewhat transactional to me, and quite weighted to the benefits humans derive from spending time in Nature.
It’s going to be interesting to see whether any of the ambassadors featured in upcoming videos articulate a more reciprocal relationship between humans and nature, that humans are part of Nature, not above it. I’ve already seen a bit of this in the short video “Bird” featuring ambassador Brooke Bartleson.
Testing the Waters
The summer 2023 issue of AMA Insider magazine includes an article on volunteer stewards working to protect Canada’s freshwater lakes, rivers and streams. It’s clear from reading that there are a lot of very local watershed volunteers, in additional to some national programs like the National Lake Blitz (see NNP: July 2023). With 20 percent of the world’s freshwater resources in Canada’s care, is it any wonder there’s a wide range of water-related citizen science opportunities. And with the recent finding of whirling disease in Yoho and Kootenay National Parks, it’s more urgent than ever.
If citizen science isn’t your thing, the AMA Insider articles lists several ways everyone can help maintain lake health:
- Minimize use of high-phosphorus fertilizers and detergents. Why? These products encourage the overgrowth of lake algae and aquatic plants.
- Go slow when boating near shorelines – wakes can cause erosion.
- Don’t flush medications or chemicals down the toilet. Take expired medications to your local pharmacy for safe disposal. Many chemicals can be dropped off at hazardous waste drops at fire halls (check your municipality for details).
- Preserve existing shoreline vegetation. Again, this helps prevent erosion, filters water and reduces flooding risk.
- If you have a septic field, keep in clean and sealed to prevent pathogens from seeping into groundwater.
I would also add that if you need to answer the call of nature and there are no facilities around, be sure to move at least 60 meters (200 feet) away from the nearest water.
Also in AMA Insider (Fall 2023), there’s a short article about native bees. Did you know there are more than 800 bee species in Canada? I’ve heard of honeybee keepers renting out their hives to pollinate almond orchards. Here on the Canadian prairies, somewhere around 60,000 bee colonies (approx. 3.6 billion bees) are trucked around to pollinate canola flowers each year!
Anyone with a yard or even a couple of patio planter pots can help support native, wild bees. Grow native pollinator-firendly plants, like lavender and milkweed. I selected the wildflower seeds I talked about last month for just this purpose.
Cultivating My Nature Connection
I’ve been reading Miles Richardson’s Finding Nature blog for years. And it’s been interesting to follow how his thinking and research have evolved over time.
In Reconnection, Richardson sythesizes and organizes more than a decade of blog posts. But he also goes far beyond, delving into how humanity’s relationship has broken over centuries. Through the Agricultural, Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, humanity’s control and use of nature accelerated, and a perceived right to exploit nature took hold. Today, we consistently overconsume natural resources, destroying habitat and driving species to extinction, all while emitting greenhouse gases.
From there, the book turns more hopeful and constructive, all based on research, mostly undertaken over the past 20 years.
As hard as it is to read details of humanity’s broken relationship with nature, I really enjoyed Part I. Richardson explores concepts as diverse as animism, dualism and humanism; examines Rene Descartes “I think, therefore I am” through a unique lens; and delves into Romanticism, Albert Einstein and today’s technology-driven collective narcissism.
Living in the Bow Valley, part of a continentally-significant wildlife corridor, I particularly appreciated his thoughts on how a “right to roam” mindset and off-leash dogs contribute to biodiversity loss. These are ongoing challenges in Kananaskis, Canmore and the Canadian Rocky Mountain National Parks.
In Part II, Richardson lays out all the Benefits of Reconnection with Nature. I’ve tried to amplify some of the research findings through these Nearby Nature Project blog posts. He brings everything together here, with extensive links to the original research. What’s clear is that nature connectedness improves wellbeing – physical, mental, reduced anxiety, etc. – and also imbues a greater sense of purpose and meaning. To date, however, there is limited research on how nature connectedness produces all these benefits.
Two things in this section gave me pause. Firstly, Richardson repeatedly states that climate change is caused by human actions. He ignores all the other forces that naturally affect climate over time, things like solar radiation and changes in earth’s orbit around the sun. However, I agree that humanity is overconsuming nature (which produces greenhouse gases and leads to biodiversity loss), and that needs to change.
Secondly, in a rare instance of not linking to supporting research, the author mentions there’s a connection between nature connectedness and more sustainable/equitable living. The equitable piece is really interesting, and I wish he’d explore that more deeply.
The closing part of the book looks at possible ways of Creating a New Relationship with Nature.
Ultimately, there is no human wellbeing without nature’s wellbeing. At it’s core, Reconnection is simply about being human within the rest of nature. Some pathways are familiar, such as the 5 pathways covered in the University of Derby’s free MOOC: Nature Connectedness (see NNP 2022 March). Given his original research, it’s not that surprising that almost an entire chapter is dedicated to (re)developing the skill of noticing nature, with fewer pages dedicated to the other four pathways.
Chapter 13 raises one of the most challenging topics in the book: what would a future world with a close relationship with nature look like? While hard to envision, the UN and IPBES are beginning this work. What’s clear is that such a world will require a paradigm shift and societal change. More difficult? The question of how to get people enjoying a high standard of living today to accept less in the way of material goods and travel experiences. And to limit the increase in standard of living for those in poverty today.
Experience with climate change and biodiversity loss headlines show that humans are generally governed by the needs of the moment. Will reconnecting with nature mean we’re more prepared to do the difficult things required to save humanity from the same fate as other animals when nature is lost? Let’s try. At worst, we end up with a new friend…nature. At best, we’ll find a way to live in harmony with the natural world. 🙂
Published in 2023, currently available in hardcover or eBook format. I borrowed the lone copy in the Calgary Public Libarary’s collection.
My Nearby Nature Project
We got our first snowfall a week before Halloween, and it seems to be sticking around to form a base layer over the vegetable and flower garden beds. So it’s a good thing I got those wildflower seeds into the ground a couple of days beforehand. I planted about half of each seed packet in one of our raised veggie garden beds, and will transplant them into the front flower beds in late spring/early summer. As for the rest of the seeds, I’ll wait to see if conditions are just right at some point between now and January to sow them directly into the flower beds. Otherwise, I may save them for a second attempt next fall/winter.
Also this month, I restarted our Aero Garden. I should have kept track, but didn’t, so my best guess is that this is the 7th planting in our 9-pod Aero Garden since we bought it at the end of 2020. We all love having fresh herbs right in the kitchen. What’s noteworthy about this go around is how challenging it was to clean and prep for a new planting. For the first time ever, I grew Italian parsley, and the roots went everywhere! I even had to separate the top and bottom layers of the top unit, as roots were growing between the layers – a great example of the tenacity of Nature.
Here’s what I planted this go around, with the seed packets arranged according to the pod layout. The thyme and sage each got 2 pods in the lower row. I haven’t tried rosemary indoors before, so it’s a bit of an experiment.
We enjoyed two wonderful bird encounters over the past month. One morning we spotted a Great Horned Owl perched on a spruce tree branch. It was silent. We only spotted it after we heard a couple of Canada Jays making a ruckus and went to investigate the cause.
Then, on the way home, I spotted a tiny songbird flitting between shrubs. It took patience, but I finally got a couple of photos. After looking through my bird books and posting online to a FB birding group and iNaturalist, I received confirmation that it’s a Pacific Wren. That’s a lifer for me, and fairly uncommon in the Bow Valley.
One thing I haven’t noticed yet this fall is large migrating flocks of Canada geese and swans. I’ve seen a few photos of snow geese flocks posted on local birding groups, but nothing in person or nearby.
It’s the time of year here in the Northern hemisphere when we witness the tug-of-war between autumn and winter. I particularly enjoy observing the ebb and flow of early season ice along the river banks. I’ll close this month with a couple of photos of ice crystals along the Bow River at the start of November. And an invitation to share something you’ve noticed recently about the changing of the seasons – it’s easy, just leave a comment.