Why is contact with Nature important?

The White Gum before we killed it

My forthcoming book, Into the Green Heart, tells my story of communion and communication with Nature.

Is that an important topic today?

Haven’t people always communed with Nature?

The answer is yes and yes. People have always communed with Nature and it’s important. But it’s much more important today than it has been in the past because many of us have lost contact with Nature and we don’t know how to rebuild that contact.

My book tells many stories about my struggles with this topic.

I could not find my place. I was lost. I felt I did not belong.

I felt I had had no competence as I navigated the terrain — geographically and metaphorically — of life in the Australian bush.

Building my bush house brought about the death of a huge white gum, probably seventeen metres tall.

In 1991, I wrote:

When we had cleared the site of fallen branches, logs, small shrubs and seedlings, Bill chainsawed down a huge white gum that the men said could have dropped its branches without warning. They called it a “widow-maker”. We were very sad to do it, as it was a very old tree—maybe a hundred years old—and must have been at least 17 or 18 metres high.

But for all my good intentions, the sacrificial lamb was the White Gum. I leaned against her and spoke to her the best I could, thanking her for her help, apologising for the killing, explaining that I hoped more trees would live because of the good work I intended to do while living in this house. I can’t pretend that she responded and I wouldn’t have been able to hear her above the chain saw.

Under construction, November 1991

Later

Months later, immersed in the wild and singing life of the forest, I began to understand:

Sitting here, I often think about our felling the great White Gum last November—over eleven months ago. I tried to be ‘practical’ about it. The builders insisted it had to go; there was no other place to site the house and I couldn’t have branches falling on my head, could I? But the other night my excuses began to evaporate as I sat here alone reading. “The White Tree is an important symbol of growth and transcendence. It has its roots in the ground and its branches spread towards the heavens. As long as the White Tree lives, our psyche is balanced and whole.” Alone in the lamplight, I stared in horror at the words. I had killed the White Tree in my pursuit of enlightenment. Had I sacrificed my Self in the process? How am I to atone, to reweave the tattered web connecting heaven and Earth?

By the end of my year in the bush, other trees were talking to me.

Tristia, a lophostemon lactufluus living by my house, deeply mourned the loss of Alba, who had been her companion for one hundred years:

I’d be lying if I said that Tristia approved of everything I did. In her nonverbal way, she explained that she was responsible for teaching me and expected me to make my own contribution to what she called the gift community by teaching others. But there were things I did in the early days at Deep Creek that she and several other neighbours really disapproved of. As I came to know Tristia, I understood that she was right. Growing to love her only increased my pain and my new awareness was a burden I could not shrug off. And by far the worst thing I did was sawing down the huge White Gum that stood to the east of my porch.  Now I realise it was the most awesome act of violence. Four adult humans agreed to kill that ancient tree.

Anthropocentrism

Many ethical insights accompanied my experience with Alba and our many conversations. Among them was a glimpse of my utilitarian views and my entrenched human-centredness or anthropocentrism. Was this tree nothing more to me than an obstacle to my house-building project?

So — why is contact with Nature important? For one, to combat our anthropocentrism.

About Wendy

Wendy Sarkissian is an author, speaker and planner. She lives in an eco-village in rural Australia. Her interests are in environmental ethics, community engagement, social planning and caring for Nature. She holds a PhD in environmental ethics.
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