In honor of Earth Month, WAMU has been asking listeners how you experience the natural world in meaningful ways. Environment reporter Sabri Ben-Achour spoke with a few people who shared their stories:
Click here to listen to them tell their stories, in their own words.
One spring night in 1968, I was on a Destroyer in the South China Sea on the way to Thailand. I had the 8 to 12 watch. My relief took over just before midnight and I went up to the 01 level and sat up until about 4 a.m. The breeze was gentle and warm, the moon was full and bright, the sky had occasional fluffy clouds, the sea was calm but not flat. The clouds cast shadows on the sea, little islands of darkness. It was a transcendent interlude.
Beautiful beyond words, serene, a perfect set of moments, linked together for hours.
All I can say about the impact of the experience is that, I know something now. Something about the ocean, something about the moon and the sky, something I can't put into words, but something that is with me always. I think it changes how I look at the world, the physical world. I see beauty everywhere, especially in the clouds. I was driving last weekend and I saw a hillside covered with bare trees, and on the margin, near the road were occasional trees that bloomed with purple flowers. Very subtle, easy to miss, but just perfect where they were.
While on an Appalachian Trail section hike, I camped overnight next to a small stream. As I repacked the next morning, the forest became silent. I looked up to see a large owl 20 feet away. I think it was a Barred Owl, but a large one, perched on a branch at my eye level, looking at me. We remained motionless and the silence continued. It was beautiful, whiter than most of its species, with pristine feathers. I had not heard it glide in at all. When I finally looked down to find my camera, again I heard nothing, but when I looked up, the owl was gone.
Gradually, the smaller creatures began to click and warble and scratch about, as if the woods were returning to life. I thought of the prey of this magnificent bird and how silent disaster could suddenly strike. As an Emergency Physician, I deal with death most days. These occasions are usually clamorous, presaged by pain or injury or known illness. But sometimes death glides into the lives of my patients with absolute silence. And in the stillness of that realization, I sometimes think about that owl and how we held each others attention that morning in the forest.
It happened while climbing some of the mountain ranges juxtaposed to Tehran last year with my uncle, whom I have seen and spoken to 2-3x since the age of 6 . It started as a leisurely hike and before we knew it we were almost at the summit. What struck me as the most powerful experience is how being out in the open allowed you to feel free. The freedom to express yourself and have a greater connection to everything else and everyone else around you. The higher up the mountain we got the more openness we felt and the more connection we felt. We talked about some of most painful moments in our lives. And in the end not only did we form a closer bond but it helped me to realize how being in nature can not only put things in perspective for you, but it also allows you to see a beauty and majesty in life that no amount of pain can shadow.
The above experience helped me to deal with my divorce which incidentally happened shortly after my trip to Iran. I was able to use nature and my enjoyment of it to cleanse myself of all the pain and hurt of the divorce while at the same time making me healthier. Many times after a traumatic event people will turn to alcohol, cigarettes, and or other drugs to deal and cope. However for me running, hiking, mountain climbing, and rock climbing became my coping mechanism. It helped me put things in perspective and heal in a very healthy way.
Mary Anne Bell
My name is Mary Anne Bell, and I live on Rosemary Lane in Falls Church Va. We have really designed and kept our backyard as a place for nature, and we have had some amazing creatures come and live with us. One day, I looked out and there was the most beautiful red fox - vixen - down at the end of our yard. In the sun, she just looked ruby red. So we named her Lady Ruby, and she moved in. And the next spring, there were three gorgeous fox kits. We became aware that if we planted inviting things and made our yard a quiet place, that even though we were in Falls Church, they could make their peace with us and come and live with us. I'm a person with a disability, and I can't always find nature somewhere else. And so having the privilege of being able to invite nature to me has been a remarkable thing.
Sabri's story was informed by WAMU's Public Insight Network. It's a way for people to share their stories with us and for us to reach out for input on upcoming stories.
For more information, click this link.