Seeking Nature’s Advice

Like many of you who are passionate about Nature, I have a few very special places where, in solitude, I engage Nature while carefully listening to Her  spiritual voice, her aesthetic voice, and her physical voice.

My favorite place is a remote area within the Ironwood Forest National Monument west of Tucson, Arizona. This 129,000 acre spread is home to many Ironwood (“Palo Fierro” in Spanish) trees and Saguaro cactus.

My special spot, which is rarely visited by mankind, is home to a large Saguaro cactus embraced by an Ironwood tree. Both plants are fully grown. The cactus will live for about 200 years and the Ironwood will live for 300 to 700 years,. I call these two intertwined plants my “elders”.

At some distant moment in the past, a Saguaro seed was blown under the Ironwood or dropped by a bird. Here, the seed was sheltered from the intenseIronwood-3191 desert sun. Leaf droppings from the Ironwood nourished the cactus seed so that it could germinate and grow. With time, the Saguaro grew taller than the Ironwood as the Ironwood seemed to embrace the cactus plant with its branches. Both plants shared the energy from the desert sun. They entered into a synergistic relationship within the soil where nourishment was provided through their intertwined roots.

It has been my habit to regularly camp close to my elders. Starting at 4 AM and for the next five hours, I engaged my elders and their surrounding environment while my camera silently and automatically captured images of the scene every few seconds.

At first, Nature’s aesthetic voice spoke to me through the beauty of an emerging dawn that clothed my elders in a gorgeous rainment of golden energy.

Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, once described bird voices at dawn as “asking God for permission to be”. Indeed, Nature’s spiritual voice spoke to me as the birds chattered. That holistic spiritual voice also spoke to me about interdependence and Nature’s connections. The very idea of nursery plant arrangements like my elders speaks of interrelationships. The chattering Cactus Wrens spoke of their dependency on the  Saguaro  as they emerged from the shelter of their homes that are carved into the cactus’ trunk. Families of Quail bonded to doting parents and moved together close to me. This, and more, spoke to me as I quietly witnessed interconnectedness in Nature.

As a scientist, I also listen to Nature as she speaks to me with facts about her existence. How? Why? My hours of quietly engaging my elders brought to mind  the thoughts of one of my readers, John Phillips, who taught me that the nursery trees are natural plant guild systems:


Ironwood-2464“The nursery trees are all legumes which fix nitrogen, and they are deciduous, dropping their nutrient rich leaves as mulch. This creates enhanced conditions for the Saguaro seeds, which may be dropped by birds that feed on the Saguaro fruit and use the trees as a roost. It’s all an example of the environment being holocenotic: everything in it influences and is influenced by everything in it.”

“Holocenotic” is a term that is applied to a network of relationships (like the flora and fauna within an ecosystem) in which all factors act together, with no barriers separating them.

Much of what I experience when I engage my elders is the wonder of Nature’s interrelationships. I’m seeing holism at its finest where  parts of a whole are in intimate interconnection. Where the parts cannot exist independently of the whole. Where these parts cannot be understood without reference to the whole. Where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

From the three perspectives of Nature’s spiritual, aesthetic, and scientific voices, Nature gives me living demonstrations of how She operates. I then ask myself how do I fit into this desert ecosystem where there are no humans? How does all of this apply to me? The answers to these questions are very personal where answers may vary with the individual. But, as Ranier Maria Rilke says:

… have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Many of the answers that we seek in Nature are not available to us because we live within ecosystems where Nature must respond to constant change. Rarely is there a precise answer even though we humans crave to predict and control Nature.

Nevertheless, encounters with Nature have led me to conclude that, by deeply listening to Nature’s three voices, Nature’s interconnections can provide clues to conserving Nature. For me, the lessons that are possible to learn focus on how we might conserve those connections. Connections are the lifeblood of Nature because these conduits transform and transport energy within Nature.

But, before we can dig into any of this connectivity stuff, we must first learn to open up our communication channels and receive what Nature can teach us. That is what I hope to do every time I visit my elders. My goal is to let Nature come to me by sitting quietly and still without any personal distractions. The lessons emerge quietly from my elders.

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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.

3 Responses to “Seeking Nature’s Advice”

  1. yaren says:

    Hello Graham, this is Yaren, from Turkey. I have been enjoying your writings and photographs for a while now. Thank you for attuning your awareness to your heart and sharing the beauty, this inherent quality of life. It is inspiring to read your words, especially this particular one, about the Elders. I have been told by a friend that old trees in forests teach and help to the young ones, “eldering” them to maturity. May we all hear and listen to our elders.
    I felt an urge to write to you about one line. I feel that it is a remnant or a word of habit. The line which reads “we humans crave to control Nature”. I don’t think it is in our nature nor it is an inherent quality of our hearts and minds. Maybe you meant “the dominant human culture in our era craves control” because many cultures do not crave that. My belief is that we create or reinforce our structures thus our realities by our words. It is like magic. So i just wanted to point that generalization and the slight despair i felt in the tone, to you. I do not wish to sound intrusive or critical. My souls mind has great belief in humans as just, kind, responsible and compassionate creatures, just like nature herself. Thank you for reading my words.
    Many thanks again for your words, for your sharing. With love,

    • Thank you Yaren. I am very grateful to you for taking the time to write such a wonderful comment. Indeed, you are correct !!! I overstepped my bounds and provided a generalization about man’s desire to control Nature. I believe that my statement was/is accurate, but within cultural bounds. I am an American who has lived in Mexico for 30+ years. Sadly, both the American culture and the Mexican culture have lost their former relationship with Nature seeing Her only as a means to serve humanity. It is in this idea of serving mankind that the need to control takes place. However, I also see this in the scientific community. When someone sees something in Nature that is considered abnormal or affected by mankind, modern science rushes to intervene and provide a solution that fits the culture. Some of my past posts have talked about intervention as a form of control where I asked the reader to consider passive methods where we let Nature take her own course. I will have more to say on this subject in future posts.

  2. Colette says:

    Trees are ancient beings….maybe not with brains, like animals, but their existence on this planet is paramount to all other mature life forms (like humans). And they do communicate with us.

    If I take a walk in the city, I soon tire of the constant traffic, noise and chatter of the human environment. But let me find a park with mature trees much older than myself, and I find instant relief, soothing thoughts and calming of spirit. I always end up looking at the trees and thinking how beautiful they are. As if in answer to my thoughts, they rustle their leaves and bend their branches toward me like best friends trying to reassure that all will be well! If one of the trees has a disease, it appears so sad, so neglected and I feel sad too.
    The interconnectedness we feel is primitive and inseparable! Why? Because we are made of the same carbon atoms and the symbiosis of the tree taking in our carbon dioxide and giving us life supporting oxygen is so fundamental to our existence that without it, we are no more! Trees are like our arms, our periscope on the world and it’s life forms.
    As the world’s forests disappear, it feels as if all life disappears including our own!

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