– by B. T. Newberg
When you move to a different ecoregion, do you experience nature shock? If not, why not?
Most people are familiar with culture shock – the cycle of highs and lows experienced in the process of acclimating to a new culture. But what about nature shock? Shouldn’t there be a similar process of acclimation to a new ecoregion?
Entering a new ecoregion
My wife and I are currently making just such a transition. We just left our native Minnesota, with its flat, farm-field prairies in the south, and its flat, rolling timber-woods in the north – all of it dotted with as many lakes as the sky has stars.
Now we’re beginning a new life in a very different landscape. South Korea’s southwestern province of Jeollabuk-do is a region of rice paddies struggling for space between soaring uplands of forested hills. Whereas flat Minnesota was all horizontal, rugged Korea is very much vertical.
The question is: are we going to experience nature shock due to the change?
Don’t get me wrong – I love Minnesota. I try to get up to the North Woods at least once a year, and last year I was fortunate enough to spend a trip with two amazing people. The land of Minnesota is dear to me.
Yet apart from some nostalgia, I don’t expect much of a shock. Why not?
Growing apart from the land
Perhaps it’s because nature doesn’t define us any more. We are living in an age when the land is not fundamentally crucial to who we are. Local environmental conditions no longer define how hot or cold we are (we have heat and a/c), what we eat (we get food flown in from all over), or how we live (you can go skiing in Dubai).
Nor do local conditions define how we think. We aren’t compelled to speak of the local water source as Mother, the sky as Father, or the animals as Brothers and Sisters. Frankly, we have the choice to totally ignore them.
But we don’t have to make that choice. We can pursue a deep relationship with the land, one where we are where we live. The thing is, we have to actively cultivate that mindset.
Growing closer to the land
So, the question becomes: what can we do to grow closer to the land, close enough that we might experience a shock upon entering a new ecoregion?
1. Spend time in the local region and get to know it. Where does the local water come from? From which direction does weather arrive? What species of migratory birds venture here, and when can you see them? When can you find wild edibles in season?
2. Perform meaningful activities in local nature. You can define for yourself what constitutes “meaningful” – whether it’s camping overnight alone in a tent, or crafting a wreath of local in-season blossoms and casting it into a river along with a prayer of gratitude. Whatever you do, it should have an emotional impact, and it should call into question your relationship with the land.
3. Research your local footprint, and change how you live. When we realize how much impact we have on the local environment, and how dependent we truly are on it, suddenly it becomes a lot more important to our daily lives.
You see, it wasn’t quite true when I said we have the choice to ignore nature. We don’t.
In fact, the current global environmental crisis is reasserting the old sense of dependence on nature, and we don’t have the choice to ignore it anymore. We are starting to wake up – slowly – to how we must live and think in accordance with nature.
So, perhaps it is time to cultivate a genuine relationship with the local land again. Perhaps it should define who we are. We might grow close to it, close enough that entering a different region causes nature shock.
This hasn’t always been at the top of my list of priorities.
Be where you live
Maybe my wife and I should be grieved to see no more Minnesota loons on the lakes, and ecstatic for the egrets soaring over Jeollabuk-do. Maybe we should feel anxious without the flat fields of home, and awed amidst the new rugged uplands. A cycle of highs and lows should whip us about as we acclimate to this new place. When transitioning from an old love to a new love, it is only appropriate that we feel grief and loss, as well as hope.
Because if we don’t experience a shock when we enter a new region, what does that say about the depth of our relationship to the land back home?