“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”
This is a quote from John Muir, which to me says it all. Let me elaborate.
San Bruno Mountain Watch is working hard to save more open space around the mountain. What is open space? We have to consider the context in which we live -- a Bay Area definition might be different than a Montana definition. In this context, anything green and open, from playing fields to community gardens to relatively natural landscapes, qualifies as open space. But its got to have plants on it instead of buildings or blacktop. Here’s why we need more.
First, about the bread. Nature feeds us all, houses us all, sustains us all. We know this intellectually, but many of us live as if it’s not true. We go to the grocery store for our food, and more or more often it’s pre-processed for us because we are so busy. We get water out of a tap or plastic bottle without thinking much about it, and we often don’t think about beathing air unless the air is obviously dirty.
It is open spaces – farmlands, parks, wild lands, even the boulevards, that help supply us with the food, air and water we need, then filter out and recycle the waste. In science classes, these natural functions are called “ecosystem services.” For example:
•all plants produce oxygen and consume CO2 and in the process produce sugar, starches and proteins;
•trees also remove pollution, as do many other plants; and
• open spaces support other members of the web of life that our lives are connected to and dependent on.
Now about places to play in. Play is a key way that kids, and adults too, get exercise and learn about the world. Open spaces provide outdoor places to play, exercise and learn. Obviously, walking, running or playing outdoors benefits our bodies.
What is less recognized is the fact that being in nature is good for our brains. Studies show that time in nature increases mental acuity. We all know this, and people often take walks to “clear their minds.” The patterns we see in nature are very complex. A walk in the woods automatically engages all our senses, even some we don’t commonly acknowledge exist.
Everyone needs beauty and places to pray in. Finally, we all know deep inside that being alone in nature gives us a chance to “center” and reflect on our individual human journeys. We get to leave behind the world of man, its concerns and its issues. The beauty we find in nature helps us to do this, and it is so important. Sometimes we think of this as getting some solitude that we sorely miss, but it is not really that: nature is nothing if not alive, and we benefit from being surrounded by and reminded of all this it is other life. Nature provides us with spiritual moments.
In the Bay Area, we need access to open space close to where we live. If my arguments for open space are true, then we need to have open space close by and accessible to a variety of people, old and young, adventuresome and timid, fit and out of shape. Our collective connection to nature has steadily weakened as we have entered an increasingly busy, high-tech touch screen world. We sometimes forget that computer screens present a virtual world, not a real one. A beautiful picture from San Bruno Mountain can be inspiring, but it is not the same as going on to the mountain.
Unless we get back in touch with nature, I am afraid we will continue letting the earth unravel as we stare at our smart phones and computer screens, distracting ourselves from a connection to the rest of life.
The following quote expresses how I feel and came via Jake Sigg’s newsletter.
“...My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.”
For more nature poetry, check out our website at http://www.mountainwatch.org/schooleys-poetry/