Thursday, September 10, 2009

Naturally Nice

I read an interesting article today about a study that was done to see if nature makes us nicer. I love reading about studies like this, since they tend to confirm ideas I already had. I grew up on the edge of NYC in the Bronx, across the street from a park and we had a large picture window in the living room that faced the park. This gave us beautiful views of sunsets over the trees. My father had (still has) this window filled with tropical and other houseplants. I don't think I could live in a house without plants, although I limit myself to plants that are low care. We also had a backyard where I spent a lot of my childhood daydreaming.

Contrast this to the city. I spent a lot of time in the city in my teens and twenties. Just getting into Manhattan meant taking the car onto the highway and through nature-desolate areas of cement and steel with the occasional scrubby tree. Taking the subway limited your nature experience even further, unless you enjoyed seeing that rat walking along the tracks and into the tunnels. More recent experiences with the NY Subway system has shown me that little has changed in twenty years, although I admit they are trying. There is much less graffiti and stations are cleaner, even though I think the smell is there for good. Elevated stations near my parent's house now have decorative stained glass, while some downtown underground stations sport murals or mosaics. But it's still the subway, still packed trains at rush hour and angry people that just want to get from here to there. The same can be said for the roads.

If you want to see New Yorkers at their best, you go to the parks. Parks slow people down and offer respite to an otherwise hectic city life. I've had the opportunity to take some out of town friends to Central Park this summer. My family spends a lot of time at the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden. I'm hoping for a chance to see the new High Line park that was built along the old elevated train line on the lower West Side. It always feels good to walk among the trees after the subway, as opposed to coming out in midtown where you are greeted with buildings stretching up around you. The only way I can deal with buildings is to look for the more beautiful stone facades amid the glass and steel skyscrapers. I can't think of where I saw it, but I remember reading about how flowers were used in the facades to help people through the winter. Seeing the stone flowers was a reminder of the warmer days of spring and summer. Which only proves to me that city dwellers have always looked for that connection to nature. We need it as much as we need sunlight and laughter!

A friend of my mother's called an appreciation of nature a gift. I believe it is a gift that can be learned. I'm sure my own appreciation of nature came from my parents' love of the natural world. My mother's father used to point out cloud formations while they drove along and have her take pictures of them. My children are definitely nature-oriented because of me and my husband. They have all grown up with the homeschooling nature class, going to parks and the Botanical Garden, biking on trails and spying on the animals that visit our yard. Marina often sketches the plants outside and has her own garden. Sierra has started doing this as well. We have a tree that doubles as a reading perch. We feed the birds and relocate toads when the lawn is being mowed.

I challenge my busy friends to take a moment from your hectic schedule to notice something natural. Perhaps you can find some flowers growing where you didn't expect them. Maybe you will notice a flock of birds flying overhead. Listen for the cicadas and crickets. Start a journal for your daily observations. You may soon find it difficult to avoid seeing the nature around you!

And I would love to hear some of your nature observations!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your beautiful thoughts. You learned well and continue to share your heritage - a deep and loving appreciation of nature - with all. Love, Mom
PS There are other surprising oasis of green in Manhattan, like the urban waterfalls wedged between skyscrapers that invite you to rest. And many New Yorkers do take advantage of them!

schmobes said...

I live in the suburbs. I have a beautiful lot. And I still long for more. Green space is so important, but not just green space, natural space. I don't need a manicured lawn, and neither do most of the animals (the geese like it, but they will take anything!). Nature is calming, if you let it be. Thank you for the eloquent reminder.

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