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Establishing a Connection With Nature

by Tom McElroy

Wilderness survival is a very alluring idea. The dream of living so closely to nature fuels us all to become better survivalists. However, as you strive to become a better survivalist, don't forget about the original goal: Nature.

Yes, wilderness survival is the greatest way to learn to see and understand the 'spider web like' interdependence between ourselves and all other things. Yet I find nothing makes me feel more at one with the earth than an in-depth knowledge of that web. So, I highly recommend getting out there with your Peterson Field Guides to start establishing that connection.

Start with whatever excites you, whether it's trees, birds, plants, or weather, and you start identifying. Once you've established the name of something, then go deeper, learn its survival value. For example with trees, is it a hardwood or a softwood? How strong is the inner bark? What animals eat its buds, seeds, or nuts? Afterward, write down everything you've learned from your own observations into a nature journal.

Be sure to include a list of observations of things you cannot explain. For example, while walking past a cattail swamp I was alarmed by the calls of the male red wing blackbird. I wonder what they were calling or why they always seem to be near cattail swamps and where the females are? Or I've noticed the leaves on the dogwood trees are already wilting away, yet it's only early summer. Why? Solving mysteries is an important aspect of understanding nature. Every mystery you solve bring you one step closer to seeing how it all fits together.

Make sure to be creative. Experiment with everything. Hang a birdfeeder by a window in your home and leave a bird identification guide on a table just inside. Or set up a baited tracking box (apples and peanut butter work great) and study (and plaster cast) the tracks of the animals that came by. The only time you won't learn from nature is when you don't look close enough. So when you get out in nature, turn over logs and rocks, or get on your belly and look through the grass. Don't prejudice yourself to looking only at the big things. Life is everywhere, some just choose not to look.

Students at a Standard class check out Nature up-close.

One important thing to remember is not to get frustrated. Studying nature can be a bit overwhelming in the onset. Just take it one tree at a time. It'll get easier as you learn what to look for. You'll find your connection with the environment will grow as you learn more about it. This will lead you to be more passionate about living in and connecting with the natural world.

From True Tracks, Fall 1998, published by the Tracker School.
There's more articles from True Tracks on the Tracker Trail website.