What connects people to nature? I suspect the answer is fast becoming Wikipedia, television, or something else that involves an electronic monitor screen. There are better ways.
Most great cities have great parks and great museums that feature nature. Ottawa is a prime example of that: millions of people each year explore the National Capital Region for its many points of natural beauty, and come to the Canadian Museum of Nature to experience the finest specimens and stories of the natural environment.
Those activities provide a connection to nature and, hopefully, inspire an ongoing interest in the natural world. But for an awe-inspiring, maximum impact, sure-fire, lasting involvement with nature, you have to come face-to-face with it.
On a recent trip to Torngat Mountains National Park in Labrador, I came face-to-face with everything from mosquitoes to blueberries to minke whales. At times like that I realize the full power of nature, and it surprises me. I have the good fortune to work up to my elbows in natural history every day at the museum, but to actually be “in it” gets me really charged up. And I wasn’t alone.
The infectious energy from the beauty of Labrador was visible everywhere, and affected all of my colleagues. It was seen in the many Elders who live at the research station at Saglek Fiord during the summer, and who tell their stories, fish and hunt. It was evident in the many experts who were there with the Students on Ice programme, and who eagerly took in everything, and talked about the discoveries they made; the students were on a whole new level of heightened awareness about the world around them. It was clearly there in the Parks Canada workers who see hundreds of visitors during the summer, but who eagerly introduced us to their summer work space.
And my favourite nature connection of all is the one that lives within Phillip, the owner of Air Labrador. We arrived at the park in a Twin Otter aircraft. The interior of those mighty planes is best described as intimate, so the person in the front seat looks through an open door to the cockpit. Phillip sat in the front seat and at least once every five minutes he was leaning into the cockpit to point something out to the pilots, or leaning back over his seat to the next person to ask a question about something he saw out the window, or to just exclaim about the amazing rivers, lakes, mountain tops and coastline. He couldn’t get enough of it, and he is in the air all the time. When nature takes hold, it makes a lasting, strong impression.
One thing is for certain, we are all part of nature, and our research tells us that it’s better to be for it than against it. To be like Philip and those very lucky participants with Students on Ice, we have to find our connection with nature, while having busy lives, probably in a city. It can be done, maybe through a backyard, or rooftop garden, a local green space, the natural history museum, or an annual trip to a national park. Find your connection and see where it takes you.