At a recent conference, I heard David Orr express the need to ‘fall in love with nature.’ His point was that without a relationship of love and kinship, too many of us will continue to see nature as an enemy to be subdued (tornados and tigers), a nuisance (mosquitoes and poison ivy), or provider of a functional service (delivering clean water and food.) He went on to state that we need to focus on helping children experience this connectivity.
I thought, what about the adults? Have we given up on the people who can activate the change that we need right away? We might not have time for these children to move into positions of authority. Throughout their lives, people fall in love with one another. Adults marry at all ages, and elders experience profound love for their grandkids. Can this pattern be extended to love for nature?
We know that certain things don’t work very well in people-to-people relationships. When is the last time you felt romantically inspired by being made to feel guilty? Or by a catalog of the defects in your personal hygiene? Or by being told that you are making the person you’re dating sick, and in fact might kill them?
Yet this is how we try to convince people to care for the environment: we make them feel guilty about harming nature; create checklists of ecologically responsible toothpaste, toilet paper, and tomatoes; and paint convincing pictures of nature’s imminent collapse. These techniques might be good for inspiring fear and pity, but not love. To make things worse, we tend to speak of nature as a broad abstraction—“Nature”—rather than as the trees and birds, the rivers and hills of the places we live.
When we fall in love with someone, we meet, we date, we grow in understanding, we grow in relationship. We are delighted by their uniqueness, their idiosyncrasies. We discover complementarity—the things we gain and the things we offer that make both lives more complete.
What might falling in love look like between humans and nature? The first step is an intentional process of engagement—we need to date. There are so many ways that our daily lives are affected by and have an effect on nature’s systems—how we eat, earn livelihood, travel. Yet we remain largely oblivious to this most immediate of neighbors.
So take time to observe and learn. You may find that you’ve never had a chance to learn the language nature speaks. Perhaps you will want to call on a matchmaker who can serve as translator. An experienced systems ecologist, applied naturalist, whole systems permaculture practitioner, or nature tracker can help establish a foundation for this long-term relationship.
The second step is ongoing: maintain contact so that the relationship develops and grows. When we garden the same plot for decades we have time to grow soil and mature trees, to learn the idiosyncrasies of climate and location. We learn to dance with nature, anticipating and appreciating the unique beauty of the place we have chosen to love.
A community of people in partnership with nature is a rich story. A community in relationship to its food source is an even richer story. The story of an evolving relationship never stops, is continuously being written, and communicates the wonder and purpose of life.