The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, November 5, 2000

Nature as guide
By A.J. Singh

Are you really aware of the wonders of the nature around you? If so, can you describe the kind of birds you saw last evening? Or today morning? What type of clouds were in the sky in today afternoon? What kind of flowers are blooming these days in the park near your house?

Which night birds did you last see? What birds nest in the big tree across the road? What are the burrowing animals that live close to your house?

If you are aware and alert and your senses sharp, then you wonít experience any difficulty in answering these questions. But not everybody is alert and conscious of the marvels of nature that surround us. And to the extent we donít observe, feel and experience them we are depriving ourselves from enriching our lives.

The modern urban man is caught up in a vicious cycle of rushing to his job in the morning; rushing back to his home in the evening; rushing to meet friends on week-ends; even rushing to entertain himself. And in such a harried state, people become automatons, with automatic vision that stragulates awareness and limits them to seeing only a fraction of what is waiting out there in the open to be seen.


Shamsher Negi, a mountain trekking expert based in Dharamshala (Himachal Pradesh)took a group of ten higher secondary school students from a public school in New Delhi for a trekking trip on the lower slopes of Dhauladhar mountain. The trekkers started their journey as soon as the day broke. When they had been walking for about an hour Negi stopped the group and asked them what animals and birds they had noticed.

Some had observed none, but a few had seen two or three. When Negi told them the names of half a dozen birds that had come their way, a fox that was seen slinking away, a jackal who disappeared in the bushes on seeing them and a host of insects and other creatures, the boys were taken aback.

Like everything worthwhile in life the art of seeing the world around us can be re-learnt. Why re-learnt? Because as children we had this natural gift in us. That is why we learnt much more and more quickly as children than we do as adults.

For instance, we could spend hours sitting on the river bank watching the rushing waters or at the edge of a pond seeing the frogs jump and croak or roam the wilds to see and wonder at life in its myriad forms. But in the process of growing up and in coping with the complexities of urban living we have lost this inborn quality. Instead we have picked up quite a few bad habits like spending hours glued to TV, doing everything in a hurry and becoming impatient with delays and so on.

Forced to live amidst artificially created surroundings most adults have lost their sense of adventure, exploration and contact with nature. A ten-year-old girl in New Delhi school when asked by her teacher how potatoes grow, replied that they grow on trees. This is because she had seen some fruit-bearing trees in a park close to the flat she lived in (in a cluster of match-box-type concrete buildings) and concluded that everything grew on trees.

Most children in metropolitan cities cannot imagine that the bread they buy from the store comes out of wheat fields blown by the wind, or the apples they buy from the fruit vendor grow on trees on the mountain slopes 7,500 ft above sea level.

How can the art of marvelling at nature be re-learnt?To begin with by discovering the dormant child in you. It means to stop anticipating what natural objects youíre going to see or feel next when you go walking or trekking.

Next, donít worry about naming animals, insects, birds, flowers and other creatures that you come across. Observe them as they emerge. Their names may be important to the biologists or the researchers but not to you. The naming process can wait.

Instead, you just watch the colour scheme of the feathers of the birds, their peculiar habits, the shyness of the hare who takes to his heels at the slightest noise, the cry of the bird that suddenly shoots out of a tree and darts away and so on.

Most tourists who visit wildlife sanctuaries and come across a bird, at once plunge into their guidebooks to find out its name. In the meantime the bird takes to wings and vanishes in the canopy of trees. So when you come across an insect or a bird or an animal suddenly, observe its beauty and peculiarities.

Lastly, donít be in a hurry to reach a destination, like the top of a mountain or the end of a trail, and then hurry to get back to the starting point. In doing this youíre only extending your habit of hurrying or running in the city to exploring nature. Here unless you go slow and allow yourself to wander a bit to see closely what is around, you cannot watch and feel the natural wonders.

Nature reveals itself in all its glory to only those who can wait and watch. If you have been to a lonely and rocky sea coast and watched the surfing waves crashing and pounding the rocky shore, you are awe struck at the latent power in the waves. And if you sit by the seaside for some time then some of it may well enter your system and invigorate your too.

Next time, when you go trekking in the hills or walking cross the countryside or visiting a natural park, open up and become alert to the sounds, smells and sights that you come by and experience. And when you do that suddenly a new and wonderous vista of life will open up before you. Youíll feel thrilled.

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