Nature has its surprise benefits
Last month the skunk that lived down the road decided to pack it in. It crawled out onto an open space on our property and, with no one looking, breathed its last. Since it thought of me as its friend (although it wasn’t mine), I gave it a proper cremation and went on with my life.
That was only one frame in the film that Mother Nature has been playing for me and all of us since forever. We’re all part of nature — all brought up at her side. She’s our home, our mother. And no matter how far we stray from her in our wired up, battened down lives, forget her and we’re like sauerkraut without the Polish sausage, hamburgers without the bun.
Gazing upon landscape paintings benefits one’s health, according to Dr. John Diamond, who studies such things. We no longer need an excuse to slouch in our backyard lawn chairs looking at the mountains anymore — even a painting is like an apple a day.
Psychologists who study how the natural environment affects us like to speak of nature’s unconscious, which, they say, is wracked and traumatized by humanity’s mistreatment of it. If Sigmund Freud were here to put the Earth on his couch, even he would be pressed to find a cure.
As Scouts, we learned to love the outdoors. Remember the first time — or maybe it was with mom and dad — that you hiked up a trail and slept overnight on the ground by a fire? If you still do that, you are one of the lucky ones. If you don’t, the trails are still there, the birds still brighten the air and animals won’t eat up those French fries you stash for the ride.
Nature is spectacular, but it has its surprises. For every person on Earth, there are 200 million insects, but I don’t want mine. A mole can dig a tunnel 300 feet long in a single night, but often it doesn’t know what to do when it gets there. Blood is the same thickness as sea water — but whales and porpoises don’t like to swim in it. Almost a half million ants can live in a single colony, but after a couple of days they get to arguing all the time. A butterfly has 12,000 eyes, which means it gets really tired when it tries to wink at its mate. Fishing is the biggest participant sport in the world — well, snoring is, but there’s no special part of nature involved.
Some people in China use live quail as hand warmers in the winter, but some quail use Chinese to cook egg rolls in the summer. Lobsters can live for 100 years, but their Social Security usually runs out before that. The sentence, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog,” uses every letter in the English language, but the lazy dog uses its one long tail to trip the fox. The sun loses up to a billion kilograms of weight every second, but no one knows if it’s actually doing push-ups on its other side.
About one third of the Earth’s land surface is desert. Most of the rest consists of weeds covering my front yard. In the average lifetime, a person will walk the equivalent of five times around the Earth’s equator. He gets so hot doing it, though, he really doesn’t know if it’s the equator or just his neighbor’s yard. It’s the female ants that do all the work among them. The males apparently just sit around watching ant football. So much for natural surprises.
Last week, we took a walk along the Canyon Trail in the Bosque del Apache. The ranger told us that mountain lions were on the prowl, so we set out to befriend them. That didn’t make us brave — just reckless. We probably shouldn’t have gone, but we couldn’t resist the urge.
Researcher Marc Berman has found that nature-walkers show great improvement in cognition, while city-walkers do not. Those who are gazing upon a real-life natural landscape respond more favorably to stress than those who are watching the same scene on a plasma television screen or on a blank wall. We’re still waiting for our cognition to spike after our walk in the Bosque.
Tomorrow (Thursday) is Earth Day. It may be time to put an end to the political cock fights over climate change and simply honor our Mother the Earth. If that has to include that friendly skunk, so be it. Nature, after all, has its surprises.
“What would the world be, once bereft of wet and wildness? Let them be left. O let them be left, wildness and wet; Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.” — Gerard Manley Hopkins
Kozeny works for Socorro Mental Health Inc. His views are not necessarily those of his employer. He can be reached by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.