Have you ever walked through a park or a local urban forest and taken the time to deeply experience your surroundings? I’m usually with my dog in these situations and I’m lucky if I notice an interesting bird call or a squirrel leaping between branches overhead. My attention quickly turns to canine roughhousing or a casual conversation with one of the dog park regulars.
When I’m hiking in the Rockies, I typically have a destination — like the summit of Ha Ling Peak that towers above the town of Canmore, the alpine vista above Lake Minnewanka on the C-Level Cirque trail near Banff, the saddle of Sentinel Pass that offers spectacular views of Paradise Valley in the vicinity of Lake Louise.
A pause for a wildlife sighting or taking a photo of some amazing scenery happens frequently, but the majority of the time, I’m marching along the trail paying just enough attention to avoid stumbling over a boulder or tree root.
A few years ago, my wife and I drove across the Northwest Territories on a “plan B” camping trip. We were intending to spend a week staying in a trapper’s cabin in Wood Buffalo National Park, but our wilderness adventure was cancelled due to a bear breaking into the cabin. It would probably return and would be too dangerous for us to stay there. Luckily, we had our tent and campsites were readily available in N.W.T.
What was supposed to be a low-key adventure where we absorbed life in the wilderness became a cross-country journey, constantly moving through the wilderness often from the inside of a vehicle. However, we had one forced day of idleness when we couldn’t contact an outfitting company to arrange a short canoe trip on the Nahanni River.
We decided to set up our camp chairs and just relax on the shore of the Liard River. It felt amazing to just take in our surroundings at a very slow pace, but soon our patience was rewarded by a herd of wood bison frolicking on the beach across the river.
We watched them for probably an hour until one by one they walked into the river, swam towards us and came ashore only metres from where we sat. It was the highlight of the trip.
This is something to consider when you’re wondering what you can do for Earth Week. There are certainly many active ways to give back to nature. You can plant a tree or shrub around your home. For extra points, do a little research on native species for your region and plant a micro-forest in a corner of the yard that doesn’t get much attention.
You can also go out to the nearest park and clean up trash or look for community volunteer events that focus on restoring natural ecosystems. But my recommendation is to take it slow and try to connect with nature during Earth Week. Take a walk along the nearest forest trail and venture off into the bush. Listen carefully to the sounds around you, the birds above and the forest floor crunching underfoot. Watch for budding plants and feel the bark of an old tree. The iNaturalist app is a great tool to help you look more closely at the incredible array of species in the forest. Simply photograph the leaves, the branches and the bark of an interesting tree or shrub and the app will help identify the species.
There are certainly many active ways to give back to nature during Earth Week and beyond. But my recommendation is to take it slow and try to connect with nature, writes Rob Miller @winexus #EarthWeek #InvestInOurPlanet #EarthDay #celebrateearthday
The point is to spend a little time in nature without an agenda. You can take a camp chair and spend 15 minutes sitting beside a small brook. Watch and observe the abundance of life that surrounds you. In Japan, this is known as “Shinrin-yoku” or forest bathing. The practice is known to reduce stress and improve your health. Scientific research has demonstrated that the positive physiological effects are measurable.
On April 22, Earth Day is celebrated around the world. It is a day of action where people and communities take steps to protect the environment. It’s an inspiring and fun way to join others in giving back to nature.
But before putting on your activist hat or rolling up your sleeves to get something done, take a little time to experience and appreciate what you’re fighting for. It will make your efforts a little more meaningful, and you’ll probably end up being surprised at how good it makes you feel.
Rob Miller is a retired systems engineer, formerly with General Dynamics Canada, who now volunteers with the Calgary Climate Hub and writes on behalf of Eco-Elders for Climate Action.