The most pressing environmental issue of our time may be that we don't all consider ourselves a part of this astounding place we call home.
How did we stop noticing, you and I, that the land that sustains us is part of who we are? How did it come to pass that only “nature people” are invited to the party celebrating life on our particular patch of Earth? Just who are these “nature people,” anyway? Do I need to apply? Do I need a degree in forest ecology?
Do I need to be able to identify birds by their song? Or pileated woodpeckers by their particular peck? Do I have to know what a kame, a fen or a quaking bog is? Maybe I need to have hiked so many miles of the Appalachian Trail?
Truth is, you need not know, believe or do a thing to be a nature person. You live here. You're in. Why not enjoy it?
The beauty of pursuing your joy for the natural world is that you don't even have to try. It's innate. You are nature. You're alive. Despite the amazing mirage a built life can create (all hail air conditioning, the French press, beer, wi-fi and leave-in conditioner), at your core you are a living, breathing being who shares many qualities, needs and a place with the plants and animals around you.
Like you, I love and appreciate our particular place: our vibrant arts and culture, local libraries, restaurants, schools, new small businesses, great places to live, work and play – our own fantastic, ever-changing showcase of human ingenuity, care and expression. In a word, our community is beautiful.
But, first and foremost, this place is a place: The land itself, with its unique forms, waterways and what lives here, beyond you and me and what we build together. This place, the ground you stand on, our common ground, this utterly irreplaceable place you live in northeast Indiana, is alive, unique in the universe, offering far more than we give it credit for or can even begin to understand. Our natural communities, plants, animals, geological formations, woods, wetlands, native prairies and working lands are part of this place – and they are essential parts of who we are.
I'm not asking you to study or even learn things. You don't need to know a thing to enjoy this place. You might pay attention, follow your curiosity, notice more, be grateful. You already do and are.
Have you marveled over the structure of a leaf? Or found yourself in the backyard, staring up at the moon in awe? Does a red fox crossing your path stop your breath? Do you enjoy breathing clean air and drinking clean water? That's a little heavy, yes, but also true. You and I wouldn't stand for a glass of polluted water and we wouldn't serve it to our loved ones. We value life, we want our place to thrive – our natural communities as much as our social, familial and economic communities.
The way this place was formed, its rivers and natural features, drew people to call it home. People came here because this land supports life. I invite you to own it, this place, your place. Call it home. You belong here, you are part of this natural community, and you have an essential role to play. It is up to you to take your place among the living things. If you do it with joy, wonder and affection for the life you share, then you will find it energizing and fun – life-giving – to take skillful action in our place, for our place.
Lettie Haver is outreach manager for ACRES Land Trust.