Engaging the wonder of Nature’s interrelationships
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 intense 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:
“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.