If wolves can make a river change its course, people can make society change its course. Peter Wohlleben explains truths of nature’s interconnectedness in his book The Secret Wisdom of Nature: Trees, Animals, and the Extraordinary Balance of All Living Things.
If you have ever seen a picture of our own solar system in relation to the Milky Way galaxy, you may have (at least for a moment) put all your troubles in perspective. We’re part of something much larger than ourselves.
It is often emphasized that as humans we are losing touch with nature. Wohlleben’s book helps the reader understand the importance of this connection to the natural world. He illustrates the extraordinary balance of all living things on earth.
Most of you know at least a little of how richly connected the natural world is. You’ll have heard about the effect of cutting down trees and ploughing the ground beneath: the soil is extremely fertile at first, then progressively loses its richness as the years go by. But did you know how this action also affects the vast ecosystem living deep beneath that ploughed soil? Did you know how studying the tree rings along an ancient river can reveal when the salmon last came up that river to spawn? Or why moths are drawn to a flame? Or how trees have an influence on climate change?
The human interactions with nature described in the book were numerous, from expressions of gratitude from a crow that was being fed by a child to the re-discovery of a species that had been thought long extinct.
Wohlleben also talked about human empathy and its impact on nature. “Empathy is one of the strongest forces in conservation and can achieve more than any number of rules and regulations.” Think of the campaigns against whaling or against the slaughter of seal pups – public outcry was so loud only because we all empathized with the animals.
And yet when empathy lacks understanding it can have adverse effects. For example, when a mother roe deer goes foraging for food, she leaves her newborn fawn alone in a secluded spot. Humans on a nature walk may chance upon the fawn and mistakenly think it’s an orphan, taking it home with them to try to save it – instead causing its starvation because the fawn will not take milk from a bottle. It’s a vital lesson on the importance of both having empathy and understanding the context. It’s equally true of the empathy we have for other human beings.
When the wolves were essentially eliminated from Yellowstone in the early twentieth century, the population of deer exploded, and the deer then decimated the trees in Yellowstone that had held the soil in place. The soil erosion increased massively, and over time it caused some rivers to change course. The natural world provides so many incredible examples of the interconnectedness of all things.
As I read this book and became more and more aware of these connections, something remarkable happened. The connections shifted from “out there” in “nature” to “in here” in our own society. How can humanity begin to mirror the beneficial connections in our natural world? How can we understand the gravity of our interconnectedness? And what tools can we use in order to live harmoniously with each other as humans? The society in which we live is an ecosystem itself. Understanding the natural world provides us with so much wisdom on how we can live harmoniously with one another.
Contributed by Dr. Arthur Clark