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Shambhala Sun | September 2012
You'll find this article on page 17 of the magazine.

Natural Wonder

It’s healing and comfort, heritage and home. Best-selling author DIANE ACKERMAN defines nature for a wonderful world in the future.

Nature {ná-tur} noun. The full sum of creation, from the big bang to the whole shebang, from the invisibly distant to the invisibly minute. Everyone celebrates it by pausing at least once a day to pay loving attention to such common marvels as spring moving north at thirteen miles a day; afternoon tea and cookies; snow forts; pepper-pot stew; pink sand and confetti-colored cottages; moths with fake eyes on their hind wings; emotions both savage and blessed; tidal waves; pogo-hopping sparrows; blushing octopuses; scientists blood-hounding the truth; memory’s wobbling aspic; the harvest moon rising like slow thunder; fat rainbows beneath spongy clouds; tiny tassels of worry on a summer day; the night sky’s leak of distant suns; an aging father’s voice so husky it could pull a sled; the courtship pantomimes of cardinals whistling in the spring with what cheer, what cheer, what cheer! Nature is life homesteading every pore and crevice of earth with endless variations on basic biological themes. For instance, this amphibious theme: tree frogs with sticky feet, marsupial frogs, poisonous frogs, toe-tapping frogs, frogs that go peep.

Archaic: In previous eras, when humans harbored an us against- them mentality, nature meant the enemy and the kingdom of animals didn’t include humans (who attributed to other animals all the things about themselves they couldn’t stand). A healthier definition of nature is both personal and panoramic, including a profound sense of our animal essence. Just as termites build mounds, humans build cities. Just as dolphins play with jellyfish, humans play frisbee. All of our being, juices, flesh, and spirit is nature. Nature surrounds, permeates, effervesces in, and includes us. At the end of our days, it deranges and disassembles us like old toys banished to the basement. There, once living beings, we return to our non-living elements, but we still and forever remain a part of nature.

Nature also includes the manicured wilderness of large cities, where parks lure countless animals from miles away to bustling green oases. There, surrounded by trees and sky, people go to feel a powerful sense of belonging to the pervasive mystery of nature, to feel finite in the face of the infinite and molded by unseen forces older than their daily concerns. Ultimately, nature offers a sense of the everythingness of all living things—everything reminds us of and is connected to everything else. Because it suggests comfort, heritage, and seasoned home, even saying the word nature thoughtfully can be a form of healing.

Diane Ackerman is a poet, essayist, and naturalist. She is the best-selling author of A Natural History of the Senses, Dawn Light, and One Hundred Names for Love and also writes books for children, including Animal Sense and Monk Seal Hideaway. Though humans luxuriate in the idea of being “in” nature, Ackerman teaches that we are nature. “No facet of nature,” she says, “is as unlikely as we, the tiny bipeds with the giant dreams.”

From the September 2012 Shambhala Sun magazine. Click here to browse the entire issue online.

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