On Being last week interviewed Michael McCarthy, author of The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy.
The book is about our human connection with Nature, and how essential that connection is. The title refers to two things he’s witnessed. He remembered as a child riding in a car at night and watching the moths that were attracted to the headlights. They were so thick they were referred to as a Moth Snowstorm. That no longer happens, because there are too few months.
The other thing is how Nature brought back his sense of joy after his mother was taken away to a mental hospital when he was 7. He remembered feeling nothing. Later he understood it was because he was so upset about her departure that he cut himself off from his feelings. It wasn’t until he was sent to his grandmother’s in the country that he began to feel again: it was on a day when he decided to run across the road; beside the road was a large bush filled with butterflies. He was momentarily transfixed by their beauty. This lead to his re-introduction to feeling, connection, and joy.
It is true that Nature is thinning. There are accounts of this all over the world. It’s been noticed and documented in national parks along the West coast of North America. In Germany, 63 nature reserves were studied, starting in 1963 when the Berlin Wall was torn down. Today, the numbers of flying insects in these parks has reduced by 76%.
Max Nichollson, a pioneer in Nature preservation, had an interest in house sparrows as a child. In 1925, he and his brother counted all the sparrows in Kensington Gardens: they counted 2603 sparrows. 75 years later, he counted only 8. His theory is that there may come a point where a colony would commit a kind of collective suicide. He was referring to what is known as the Allee effect, which hypothesizes that declines in socially breeding-species eventually becomes self-reinforcing.
Humans are part of Nature. We are all part of the evolution of the Earth. For 50,000 generations, we were part of the wildlife – just another species. It’s only the last 50 generations that we’ve gradually separated ourselves from Nature. But the truth is: we’re still a part of Nature, even if we chose to ignore this truth.
Nature is where we take our connections and metaphors from; it’s where science exists.
And science is beginning to learn that re-connecting with Nature positively impacts us physically, emotionally, and mentally. And, I would add, spiritually. It calms us and feeds our spirits. It brings us significant moments of joy.
You might have, as a child, had your own special place in the woods, back yard, or nearby park. Somewhere outdoors where you could go and be alone with Nature; a place where you felt safe to simply be, to regenerate. Or you might have discovered that later as an adult.
I have such a place. I visit it every week, and it does bring me joy, refuelling me for the next 7 days.
If you don’t yet have such a place to go to, make this your next goal. Then spend some time, every week, replenishing your joy.
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Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist. To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .