Nature is a Puppy

 

Finding meaningful connection with nature is difficult for the average urban dweller. Some of us simply don’t know how—without a prescribed activity, we are at a loss. Others are bored unless nature offers something tangible, like something to speed through, climb up, jump over, or zip past.

But, in a world where the population keeps growing and nature keeps shrinking, natural areas will eventually become overwhelmed by hard, active use. Wild nature should be valued for its own sake, not only for its Use Potential.

We need a more mindful approach.

Why not approach nature as a fellow living being?

 This is a watercolor I did for the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Colorado.


This is a watercolor I did for the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Colorado.

 

A Barrel of Puppies

Of course, nature is not always fluffy and cute. Even if you’ve never felt the sharp edges of wilderness survival, you’ve probably seen enough on the Nature Channel to know that true Wild Nature can be downright horrifying.

Mostly, it’s Eat or be Eaten.

But, the nature most of us will encounter in daily life is tamer. Our urban parks, our greenspaces and natural areas close to population centers are not places where you need to fear for your life. On the contrary, nature has far more to fear from you.

We have no problem treating puppies and kittens with tender care, why can’t we treat birds, and small mammals, or even insects and worms with the same consideration? Most wild animals and wild plants in cities—even ones we are taught to think of as “bad”—are simply trying to survive.

Try this sometime: when you visit a natural area, try approaching it as you would a living creature you wish to get to know. Everything—the plants, the trees, the animals, and everything in between—is Life. Treat it with some tender care.

You will feel truly connected to nature.

Happy Earth Day!

Join the Slow Nature Movement on Facebook!

Join me on Facebook!

The Slow Nature Movement

 

Slow Nature is catching on fast.

 

“Slow” Movements are really popular right now: Slow Food, Slow Fashion, Slow Parenting, and many more.

Now, there’s Slow Nature. (It’s about time, right?)

 

Why Slow?

Slow Nature isn’t claiming there’s anything wrong with speeding through a forest or natural area. It’s fun to sail through a forest canopy on a zipline, hurtle over obstacles on a mountain bike, or run really fast on a trail. You get your exercise and your nature-fix all in one brisk outing. It’s like killing two birds with one stone.

 

DDahnTornado2

 

But, when you speed, you miss so much.

And in places where wild nature is scarce, it makes sense to reserve natural areas for, well, nature.

Connecting with nature in a meaningful way is the idea behind Slow Nature.

 

DDahnForest

 

There are whole worlds in the layers of a forest, from gazillions of tiny microbes in the soil, to the massive, centuries-old cedars, hemlocks, and Douglas firs. But, you don’t need a pristine old-growth forest to practice Slow Nature. Most any natural area will do, even ones that have already suffered from invasive species. Slow Nature is not about pristine, it is about recognizing our fellow living beings: plants, animals, insects, and everything in between.

 

Connecting with nature happens when you slow down and look closely…

 

DDahnShrooms

These tiny mushrooms were only about the size of a quarter. I have no idea what they are. Maybe I’ll invent a name. Knobby Puffballs.

 

You don’t need to be an expert. You don’t need to know anything at all…just how to put one foot in front of the other and to keep your eyes open.

 

A trio of life on a fallen log: fungus, moss, and lichen. You can't compose a more interesting design that this!

A trio of life on a fallen log: fungus, moss, and lichen. You can’t compose a more interesting design that this!

 

 

I found these tiny mushrooms huddled together like they were waiting for a bus in the rain. Hidden in the soil lives the mysterious fungus—the non-plant, non-animal being that sends up these “fruiting bodies” when it’s time to reproduce. Wikipedia tells me fungi are genetically closer to animals than plants.

Something to consider if you’re a vegetarian, I suppose.

DDahnFungi

 

Springtime is my favorite time in the forest—I love the joyful unfurling of the ferns. They make such cool spiral shapes. I’d love to see a time-lapse of this. Reminds me of those things you blow on New Years Eve.

 

DDahnSFern

 

 

There is even a lot to appreciate in the beautiful, sharp-tempered nettle. Look, but don’t get too close—she is covered with tiny, chemical-filled stinging needles. What a brilliant defense mechanism against nibblers! But, if you cook them, nettles are delicious—the needles lose their sting. I wonder how long it would take nettles to evolve cook-proof needles?

DDahnNettle

Next time you get stung by a nettle, try this: Find a sword fern with sori—the spots with the spores. Rub the spores gently into the sting. Voila! Pain gone.

 

Practicing Slow Nature, you will sometimes see magnificent things that take your breath away…

DDahnLincolnPark


Aaaah. Cue soaring background music…

 

 

Other times, you’ll see more humble things—or even those considered “bad” for one reason or another. But, aren’t they wonderful in their own way…if you look closely?

DDahnDandelion2

Hey! Where’s MY background music?

 

 

Connecting with nature is best done slowly.

You don’t need expensive equipment, just a good pair of walking shoes, and a good attitude. You can be any age, background, or income level. Slow Nature is fun, healthy, and essential for well-being.

 

Plus, slowly and quietly, you’ll have a much better chance of seeing wildlife, too. (I’ll save that for a future post).

But, one thing I can guarantee you will NOT see…

DDahnGreenMan

 

…the Boogeyman.

Forests—and natural areas in general—are no more dangerous than pretty much anywhere else. Even natural areas in cities. Especially in cities. If you need convincing, check your local crime/accident statistics. The real ones—not the hyped-up ones.

 

Join the Slow Nature Movement today!

 

Learn More About the Slow Nature Movement

(This is all there is so far – I just started it)

but…it wouldn’t be a movement without a Facebook Page – so I just started one. You can “Like” the page to keep up with new developments as they happen.

Help us preserve natural areas and greenspaces in Seattle.

Seattle Nature Alliance (join by “liking” our Page)

 

Read and Be Inspired

The Urban Bestiary, by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

River-Walking Songbirds & Singing Coyotes, by Patricia K. Lichen

The Hidden Forest, by Jon R. Luoma

 

And yes…those are all photos, taken with my trusty ipod-touch and fluffed-up in Photoshop. Photos from forests in Seattle Park forests, and on the Olympic Peninsula.

 

You might also like:

Primordial Valentine – a video I made while spying on some sword ferns reproducing

Old Growth Forests – why I’m a forest creature

Forest Bath – another way to walk in nature

Forest Fright – To be afraid, or not to be?

 

Please leave your thoughts in a reply! I love hearing from you!

 

Connect with Nature through Art

Artwork done outside is as much about the experience as the result. Sometimes, it can lead to a very deep, zen-like connection to the natural world.

Painting outdoors is more challenging than working in your studio. It’s always more uncomfortable—especially with no easel or painting stool. But, that’s just part of the experience.

I originally published the following post as “Three Seats of Stone” in August of 2012.

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Seat 1

A large flat boulder, blue-green, cool to the touch and smooth as silk. In the middle of the North Fork Teanaway River.

 

It’s like sitting on a piece of elegant marble—an anomaly in this stream filled with sharp basalt and rough sandstone.

This is a pleasant, shady spot with lots of room to set out my acrylics, water bucket, and brushes. Facing downstream, with the current flowing all around and nothing behind me but river.

I relax and focus on the mesmerizing flows, the ripples, the reflections. The stream gathers high above me in bright alpine wildflower meadows dripping with snowmelt, and flows down steep basalt canyons and through forests and farm valleys, finally coming out onto the open, drier landscape of ponderosa-covered rolling hills. There, it joins the Cle Elem River, then the Yakima, the Columbia, and finally the Pacific Ocean. It’s a trip of a few days, I would guess.

 

Seat 2

Small, rough, lumpy, uncomfortable. Sandstone? On the rocky banks of the Salmon River near Mt. Hood. Very hot.

 

I have to spread out my watercolors at my feet and hunch over to reach them. The sun is blindingly bright on my white paper.

The current is rushing just enough to block out all other sound. I fall into the painters’ trance, focusing on the river: a moving picture of shapes and colors. The water shows me different things, in some places reflecting the forest and sky, in others the rocky bed below. Sometimes nothing but the greenish depths of the water itself.

I occasionally glance behind. Has someone approached while I was away in art-world? Am I being watched? I scan the banks, and the forest beyond. I am alone. Just me and the mossy giants of this classic old-growth forest.

 

Seat 3

Sharp, wet, precarious. A bus-sized rock formation—one of the Oregon Coasts’ famous Earth-sculptures.

 

I imagine it was erupted from some Jurassic volcano, then plunged under the continental plate, pressed, cooked, uplifted, shook, and wave-attacked…for millions of years.

Now, it’s my own private rock painting-bus, with a series of sharp but perfectly butt-sized notches to squeeze into. I scramble up and choose the best one: the drivers’ seat. There is a built-in back to lean against and shelves for my palettes and brushes.

I’m high up, out of reach of annoying looky-lous, and with a sweeping view. The air is fresh and salty, the ocean unbelievably blue. Wow. This place is perfect. I could stay here all day. I get settled and launch myself into my watercolors and soon I have fully entered art-mind. I feel so great I think my brain waves are probably rising and falling in sync with the ocean.

I realize my mistake. Darn.

I pack up and climb down from my magic painting bus and reluctantly head back up the trail.

Next time, remember: no extra cups of morning coffee. It’s better to be a little dehydrated on a plein air day.