Spring is bursting forth all around us right now. The woods are budding green and bursting with growth. Spring bulbs and ephemerals push their brave heads above the earth and into the sunshine of lengthening days. Spring is here! The world bursts forth with growth! As if all of this luscious growth was not enough motivating to build connection and relationship with the Earth, in the middle of the month we have Earth day, toward the end of the month, reminding us how vital it is to cultivate a relationship with the world.
This is a time of year when it feels like nature is begging for our attention. Our souls yearn to connect with the natural world and natural cycles in this time.Personally, I can say it’s been such a joy to walk through the woods and say hello to my favorite patches of snowdrops, trees that are old friends just starting to put out new buds, spotting the places where the dandelions are first to burst into bloom. I’ve been watching the cycles of growth in this place for almost 4 years now. It’s starting to become a familiar routine and honestly I’m amazed at how many plants and animals I can recognize now.
But it didn’t start out like that. This relationship I’ve built with the natural world around me is that I have intentionally cultivated. And it’s a relationship that you can cultivate, too! In a world where we have become so disconnected from the natural cycles, from knowing the plants and animals around us, it can feel an impossibly big, insurmountable task to reweave that connection.
The truth is that you can absolutely reconnect, repair that relationship, and even deepen it. It happens slowly, in baby steps. And those baby steps cascade more quickly than you might think!
To help you on this journey of reconnection, I’ve put together a list of my best tips and useful tools for reweaving your connection to nature.
Tips To Help You Connect With The Earth
- Know that you are already in relationship with the earth.
You are already deeply and intimately intertwined with the earth. All humans are. Inherently. The earth and its cycles are part the many, interlocking parts of the closed system of this glorious planet that miraculously support life. You are already a part of this cycle – breathing in air that is part of plant’s respiratory cycles, eating food thanks to the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, and on and on. This relationship exists even if you’re not aware of it, don’t know how to recognize it, or don’t know how to honor it. A good place to start is simply to notice all the ways you are already in relationships with the natural world around you.
- Pay a land tax.
If you live in North America, you live on colonized native land. Quite likely you live on unceded native land. Learn about the tribes on whose native land you live. (You can use native-land.ca as a starting place for learning which tribes call the land where you life home.) You can pay a one-time or regular donation to that tribe or to native run organizations and mutual aid networks, like Pay Your Rent, Indigenous Environmental Network, or NATIFS.
- Get to know ONE new plant or animal friend a season.
There are SO MANY AMAZING other-than-human friends out there that you could get to know. It can feel overwhelming to sit with just how much you don’t know. But going from being able to recognize only a handful of plants to recognizing ALL the many plants in your region…well, it’s just too much. It’s too big. So I recommend you start small – pick just one (or a handful, but seriously no more than 3) to get to know over a whole season, or even a whole year. If that seems appallingly slow, if you’re thinking, “OMG we’re in the middle of a mass extinction! How can I get to know just ONE plant this year???” I would direct you to this list of characteristics of white supremacy culture (one aspect of the massive empire of capitalist colonialism that has gotten us into this situation), see “urgency” on that list? This isn’t urgent. What is a year against the vast geological times scales that our plant friends know? So take a season or a year, pick a plant (or animal) you see often, and observe it throughout that time. Say hello each time you see it. Listen for it to say hello back. Notice what it does on hot days or cloudy days. Notice when it puts out flowers, puts out seeds. Notice what grows next to it. This long slow process of noticing helps build the skills you need to begin to recognize other plants more quickly. But take it slow at first. This isn’t a race. Plants aren’t pokemon. You do not have to collect them all. Get to know the ones you are called to know really, really well.
- Watch the flowers around you that you DO know for a whole season.
If you are familiar with any common plants that are often harvested for their health benefits – dandelion, violet, red clover, etc. – and you are lucky to have some growing around you – consider watching them for a whole season before you ever harvest them to make your syrups or teas. Watch them, say hello, listen to what they have to share. Build relationship with them before you harvest them for your personal use.
- Spend regular time with the same nature spot.
Make a commitment and set aside some time each week to visit a park, a tree, a body of water, some natural area near you. Go weekly for a whole season (or if you’re like me, you’ll love this practice so much you go weekly for over a year!). And go through the same process. Watch, say hello, listen, watch the changes, welcome observation.
Resources To Help You Connect With The Earth
- PictureThis App
This is an app that I use to quickly ID plants that I meet on walks that I don’t yet know how to identify. This app isn’t the most accurate, and it works best when the plant is in bloom. However, it is an excellent companion to the slow approach and it doesn’t require you to buy expensive guides or anything like that. Observe the plant you’ve chosen to get to know, wait for it to blossom, and then snap a picture and learn the name of the plant you’ve been getting to know. (At this point, now that you have a name you can also start doing more intellectual, book-reading research, too!)
- Merlin Bird ID
This app helps you ID birds by the sound of their song. It’s kind of amazing. Put it on while you drink an iced coffee at a local park and see how many bird friends are hanging out with you! Make this a regular practice and you’ll start to see seasonal changes in what birds are around when!
- Peterson’s Field Guides for Your Region
These are great for more technical plant ID and also for learning more intellectual information about the plant. Getting all the relevant guides for your region can be a bit of an investment, so before you buy check and see if your local library has a copy you can borrow to see if you actually use it!
- Local Park & State DNR Resources
I’m sure this can vary quite a bit state to state, but very often your local public park system or state department of natural resources has produced many useful resources on your local eco-region, local native plants and animals, and more that can help you get to know your local ecosystem more intimately!
- USDA Plants Database
Wanna know if a plant is native, invasive or introduced (non-native but not invasive)? The USDA Plants Database is your go-to free resource!
- Sarah Corbett’s Herbal Educational Courses
If you want to deepen your relationship to plants and nature in a way that includes herbalism, there is no one whose herbal education I recommend more highly than Sarah Corbett’s courses & membership! Sarah teaches from an animist, seasonal perspective that will help you come into a deep intimacy with plants and the natural world.
If you want to deepen your relationship with the Earth this Earth Day, pick one of these things and make a habit of noticing! Building relationship takes many small moments of noticing, recognition, many moments of saying hi to the plants or trees or squirrels.
When you’re considering the prospect of connecting more deeply to nature, especially the nature where you life, it can be OVERWHELMING. If you didn’t grow up learning how to identify plants and animals, it is very much like learning an entirely new language. Start small, take baby steps at first, and soon you’ll be amazed at how much more you can observe and understand about the land around you, and you’ll start to be able to deepen that connection more intentionally.
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