Ever wonder why from almost the first moment explorers discovered the “New World,” we have had a seemingly uncontrollable urge to move west? The simplest answer is – because it was there. There lay at our feet what was considered to be an inexhaustible expanse of fresh land and bountiful resources to be claimed, inhabited and…ok, I’ll say it, exploited. Unlike our former homelands, which had been occupied, civilized and passed down through generations or claimed through battle, this new land offered the room to stretch our collective legs and to expand our “moral authority” over the natural world, including the native peoples who had lived as one with it long before we arrived. That’s where we were then, and now…? How are we handling our “moral authority” in the 21st century, when there is no longer a wild frontier to conquer?
I broach this subject, not to cast blame or invite controversy, but to ruminate a little about how our history as a nation has influenced our attitudes toward natural resources today. When our supply of untouched land and untapped resources, whether they be wild game, grazing lands, trees, oil, water, or air seemed infinite, we developed a cavalier approach to how we used them…and how we abused or used them up. Unlike our forbearers who understood the need to exist alongside nature, often we were dead set on controlling it. Basically forgetting we also were a part of it and dependent on it.
As the space we share grows smaller every day while the world’s population grows larger and the resources we require for life are stretched thinner, it’s a good time to look at how we all might be better served by rejoining the interconnected circle of nature. Maybe we can’t change the world, but we can make small but significant changes in our own lives. We can recycle. We can conserve. We can support local farmers and producers. We can find ways to consume less. We can take the time to be quiet and listen to the lessons of nature that are all around us.
One great place to rejoin the natural world and introduce our children to it is in the garden. Whether we’re tending a container of herbs on a balcony or patio, spreading wildflower seeds in a neglected corner of the neighborhood, or planting a family or community vegetable garden, we are participating in a process many of us have lost touch with – the simple act of planting a seed, watching it grow and enjoying the harvest. In doing so we reconnect with nature – and let nature nurture us, just as it has tried to do throughout the history of man, when our “moral authority” hasn’t gotten in the way.
dig deeper: Check out A Blessing of Toads by Sharon Lovejoy, a collection of delightful essays and beautiful illustrations. Lovejoy focuses on the boundless joys of the natural world found just outside our doors in the garden, including hummingbirds, caterpillars, and dragonflies, but her informative and witty prose covers traditional plant care as well.