The Power of Place-tience
Patience has never been a personal strongpoint. As a result, I’ve yet to indulge in the rumored joys of birdwatching, and have only recently begun to grasp the concept of searching for the subtle signs of animal activity. Impatience is not the most conducive trait to being a good, observant naturalist, I know. It’s actually somewhat embarrassing. Part of my intention for this year of residency at the Environmental Learning Center is to gently nudge myself toward a slower contemplation of the natural world.
With this admission, it is of little surprise that I’m wildly frustrated by my attempts to connect with this landscape, these epic North Cascades. Over 300 glaciers? The second highest biodiversity of any national park (only Great Smoky Mountains has us beat), including at least seven species of my favorite plant weirdos, the anti-chlorophyllic parasitic plants? A her-story of brave pioneers like Lucinda Davis? All the ingredients are here, ten-fold, for falling in landscape love.
But some relationships take longer to develop. My connection with these peaks and valleys is not meant to be a quick crush or some googly-eyed, gushy obsession. I desire intimacy, which most of us understand is a hard thing to achieve, much less rush.
Is it possible to expedite our connection to nature? Is this an awful question? Photo by the author.
A big piece of NCI’s mission is to foster a connection to this ecosystem, and not a day goes by in the graduate program in which someone isn’t getting all heartfelt about the importance of “place”. Yet how does one cultivate this deep tie pronto – us grads are blessed with only one precious year to daily dig in – especially if this is a relatively foreign slice of the planet to many of us?
Though these questions have plagued my first months exploring northwestern Washington, I find solace in the assurance that nature is nature. Once you start to understand your place within the planet, as opposed to superficially on it, it seems reasonable one could create a sense of place, of deep and dirty appreciation, wherever one lands, right? Not to go to the realm of indigo spirals, but…aren’t we all children of the universe, at home here, there, everywhere? To paraphrase a clique of famous hippies, we are stardust, golden, and maybe finally getting back to the garden, little by little.
Reason, though, like patience, has never much appealed to me.
Thus, like a battering mountain goat, I’ll continue to keep trying. In lieu of finding a more cultivated “sit-spot” quite yet, I’ll at least have a “run-spot” to keep weekly tabs on, up the Sourdough Trail to the waterfall. I’ll get on my knees with fifth graders to survey groundcover. I’ll marvel at the shelf fungus rotting away new snags, like miniature flying saucers crash-landed in our woods.
I suspect this practiced poking around, though, as we grads like to call it, won’t be enough, and viscerally communing with these mountains will have a lot more to do with relenting to the upcoming weather. Maybe the connection will grow stronger by spending afternoons lying on the wet forest floor until the moss assumes my ankles as substrate, by snowshoeing to the waterfall, or by finally accepting baptismal in the glacial aquamarine of Diablo Lake. For now, there are plenty of spots to sit, which I keep telling myself I’ll do once the ground-nesting wasps finally die. Perhaps then I’ll come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter much, that I am here maybe that’s just fine.
Katherine Renz is a graduate student in North Cascades Institute and Western Washington University’s M.Ed. program. She is currently one of two editors of Chattermarks. Though she has scars on her legs from chaparral scrapes and still longs for the golden hills of a California October, she’s excited to soak in this Cascadian ecosystem like moss during the first rain.
What a thoughtful and beautifully written post, Katherine. I look forward to more from you.
You ask, “Is it possible to expedite our connection to nature?” Do you ask because you want this connection to be accelerated generally (as with the people who come to the ELC), or because you think trying to “expedite” something like connection to nature or place is misguided? People can be helped to connect, but I don’t think such a complex experience can be “expedited.” Sounds too much like sending a package FedEx. Good, thought-provoking post, Katherine.