By Danny Friedman
November 17, 2019
I talked a lot as a kid.
If you know me, you might say that I still do. My mother told me that as a younger person, the only time I would stop talking was in the forest. She would strap me into a backpack kid-carrier and we would walk through the woods behind our house.
My incessant and unintelligible babbling would cease the moment we passed under the massive red oaks that formed the gateway to a several-hundred-acre parcel that everyone in the neighborhood called The Fire Trails. Named after the paths that crisscrossed the land to slow a forest fire, it was a magical strip of mature Laurentian Hardwood forest that was set aside by the local paper mill along the banks of the St. Louis River. It hadn’t been logged since the virgin pine stands were cleared from the land and floated down river.
It wasn’t unusual to come across giant white pine stumps preserved by the flames of the 1918 fire under the maple, aspen, and oak canopy. I spent most of my free time growing up exploring this piece of nature that, to me, seemed endless in its capacity to captivate and calm me through the unsavory experience of being an awkward teenager.
The best cure I’ve ever found for a broken heart is to lie down on the forest floor and listen to the wind and watch the trees sway.
I saw this healing power of nature at work time after time as a guide in the border country; each camper would come out of the wilderness different than they entered. I’ve been thinking a lot about nature’s power to calm and give a much-needed perspective on things lately. I can’t think of anything this world needs more of now than a deep breath and some time to listen.
I’m sharing my personal relationship with the natural world because I believe we need to examine that personal connection if we are to be effective ambassadors for the planet.
I have been teaching environmental literacy to young people for over fifteen years and no matter how charming I am, nothing can compare with the relationship a person forms with the natural world.
Mother Nature is her own best advocate.
We are faced with an environmental crisis that has the potential to alter our natural world in profound ways. Warnings of sea level rise, mosquito borne illnesses, and summer heat waves have done little to sway public opinion.
I talk with young people frequently about climate change, and they are well aware of the danger of continuing on our current path. The message they are getting is that “if we don’t do something about climate change things are going to get very bad.” I don’t want youth to be motivated only by the fear of what is to come.
I think we might have better luck if we are all motivated by the love of what is here now.
I would like to leave you with this request. Go out and listen to the natural world and bring a friend. Mother Nature is an amazing communicator. She can make anyone fall in love with her if they take the chance to let her whisper in their ear.
I invite others to share how they are witnessing the impacts of climate change, and submit to the Eyewitness project by Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy, at climateeyewitness.org. Submissions are due on Dec. 15.
Danny Friedman was a climate storyteller featured during the Will Steger Legacy’s Youth Convening Minnesota project at the convening in Warba, Minn.