Thanks to California’s Environmental Literacy Steering Committee supported by State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, Ten Strands, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and many other partners around the state, progress is being made to make environmental literacy an integral part of every child’s education. In this post for Ten Strands, I write about the great work ChangeScale is doing in the Bay Area to support local partnerships that advance environmental literacy.
Strengthening our connections to each other and nature in everyday life can help us find greater meaning and happiness. When diversity is present in our daily experience, these deeper connections can also help counteract the growing social divisions in our country and threats to our natural environment. Experiencing human diversity in the places in which we live can be an antidote to negative bias and prejudice towards others. With local nature and biodiversity present, we may more regularly see nature as part of us and ourselves as part of nature.
When I experience nature, I am in awe at its complexity. In any plot of wild nature, hundreds if not thousands of species exist from microorganisms to plants to birds to other animals, all dependent on one another and contributing to the larger ecosystem. When we do not see or experience nature in our daily life, we can become detached from knowing how we need biodiversity for the survival of our species and all others.
With biodiversity as our guide, we can think about how our communities also need human diversity. It has been a long and divisive political season in our country. The divisions and the lack of understanding for each other seem to be only getting worse. If we don’t have opportunities to hear diverse perspectives, it’s hard to imagine that things will get better. Calls for dialogue and talking with each other and not at each other are being made and hold great promise. However, if the places in which we live lack human diversity, such dialogue and understanding may be hard to achieve.
Life in America seems designed to keep us separated from one another by race, ethnicity, income and other demographic characteristics. There are historical trends in our country around voluntary and forced segregation that underlie this phenomenon. Diverse American communities, where they exist, can disappear when gentrification takes hold and pushes out those with more limited means. Even within diverse communities, we can experience limited human diversity in daily life when we transport ourselves in private cars, work in another community and spend most of our remaining time in a private residence. Changing these structures and patterns that keep us separated from human and natural diversity may seem impossible, but working to change this has never been more important.
We need to seek out, cultivate and embrace diversity where we live every day. Transporting ourselves, whenever possible, in ways that get us outside, with others and out of private cars, may be one starting point. Spending more time in public space—such as parks, plazas and diverse neighborhoods—is another related approach. Public space can be further utilized to foster dialogue and understanding, such as the Wall of Empathy (pictured above) that I came across getting off the subway earlier this month. Advocating for and supporting the development of our communities to become more diverse is also needed. Mixed-income communities, with affordable housing, that welcome all people are a cornerstone. Making public space safe, attractive and abundant with nature can support interaction among diverse people and meaningful connection to biodiversity. To address the challenges that we face in the 21st century and increase meaningful connection and joy in our everyday life, we need human diversity and biodiversity in the places in which we live.
Another Halloween has come and gone. Our kids look forward to it every year with great anticipation. And we, adults, love the joy and excitement it brings our kids. Sure, a lot of it centers around the costumes (and the candy!). Over the years, disposable, packaged Halloween costumes have become more common. Yet, those creative, handmade costumes still seem to capture most of our attention and create great memories. Halloween not only taps our creativity but provides opportunities for meaningful connection often missing in our busy everyday lives.
Halloween connects us to our place in the world. If we are fortunate to live in a safe community that celebrates Halloween, we’re walking through our local neighborhoods and talking and laughing with one another. Our sense of community and togetherness is strong. We’re outside and in the elements— rain, snow or moon! Walking slowly outside allows us to open up our senses to the nature that surrounds us on the ground and in the sky. Connecting with nature in our lives restores and rejuvenates us, even on Halloween.
The pumpkin carving ritual also brings us closer to nature. The pumpkin(s) you bought may not be local or organic, but also did not come packaged or processed. It’s directly from the land. Carving a pumpkin provides a child (or adult) with an opportunity to carefully observe a plant with all its contours, textures and smells. Extracting and then cooking the pumpkin seeds connects us intimately to this food source. This year for the first time, my family removed the pulp to make a pumpkin pie filling.
Enjoying the creativity of costumes and the taste of sweet treats are a big part of Halloween’s excitement. Let’s also appreciate the deeper meaning and happiness when we connect with neighbors, our community and the nature around us and in our pumpkins!
Thanks for reading my inaugural blog post of Connecting to Place: Community and Nature in Everyday Life. Connected to place is about finding meaning, happiness and hope in our everyday lives and communities.
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