From where I am writing this I can hear birds squawking and chirping. A soft breeze brushing past leaves. I can see bright yellow flowers and green palm fronds. A spider web strung between shrubs. I can smell the greenery of the garden and feel the warmth of the spring air on my skin. This is urban nature: nature intermingled with people and their creations. The sound and smell of cars constantly rushing past. The giggle of children playing and rhythm of music floating through the air. The sight of houses, roads and furniture.
What is your relationship with nature like? You may not have thought about his before. Is nature something you connect with? Or do you merely interact with nature sporadically? Do you see nature as part of you, or something which is external or separate?
In western societies, nature is often thought of as separate from people. While I don’t think anyone can deny that we are all reliant on nature for many aspects of our lives – food, water, energy, shelter – the threads that connect us with nature are not always immediately obvious in everyday lives, particularly in urban areas. We buy food from supermarkets. Our homes are supplied with electricity, water and gas. Our waste is efficiently removed from our homes. We trim plants to fit into compartments in gardens and street sides. Our time is often spent on indoor work and leisure activities which are often technology dependent.
In contrast, some cultures see themselves and nature as one. Going back to my analogy of the three yarns of ‘environment’, ‘economy’ and ‘society’ which comprise sustainability, some cultures view themselves as being of the same yarn as nature. One such example is in Aotearoa/New Zealand, my homeland. Here, the Māori people have a deep connection with the land, which is also connected with their ancestors. When giving a traditional Māori pepeha (greeting), they introduce aspects of nature that they are connected with including their maunga (mountain) and awa (river) or moana (sea), as well as their whakapapa (family). This gives their audience information about their relationships to both the whenua (land) and tangata (people), showing the two are of the same fabric.
To me, nature is beautiful, inspiring, nurturing, restorative and educative. I enjoy exploring it, exercising, relaxing and contemplating in it, taking photos of it and working in it. Being in nature makes me feel alive and helps keep me physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy. It’s kind of become part of my psyche. My friends or family might tell you that without regularly being in nature I can become irritable. I’ve been lucky enough to live, work and have adventures in different parts of the world, giving me the opportunity to connect with nature in many different places. While living in Scotland for the past five years, despite the often-harsh weather (!), I developed a respect and love of nature in this part of the world through doing field work, hiking and mountain biking.
Living an urban life, where nature seems to be modified to fit around people and their lifestyles, I don’t always find it easy to connect with nature and appreciate its beauty. I think it is worthwhile reflecting on your view of nature and whether you are conscious of the threads that connect people and the natural world. I will leave you with an excerpt from a poem by Joy Cowley, that I think eloquently expresses the relationship between people and nature:
“Separation is the illusion.
What is known by every tree,
every bird and blade of grass,
we learn step by slow step
in the journey together,
as we fit each other
with the extra vision
that we all love.”
First published in Tui Motu, Issue 1, September 1997:14.