Powerful Life Lessons from Nature

My last two posts detailed some of the lessons I’ve learned through my experiences in nature.  Sometimes I don’t learn my lessons very well. For instance, I’ve repeatedly walked through seas of ticks and gotten caught in thorny shrubs. One of my least favorite things is being surprised by greenbrier. Time after time I have been walking in the woods, searching for birds, only to be tripped up by that evil plant. Greenbrier likes to hide beneath small trees and shrubs in the understory, then grab your ankles with its thorny stems as you pass by. You begin to feel the thorns cutting through your legs as you’re lying face-down on the ground, covered in mud. Things get really bad when I’m wearing knee boots, which provide less traction than hiking shoes. That’s why I refuse to go near cliffs while doing field work. I just know a greenbrier plant is waiting to launch me over the edge with a stabbing shot to the ankle. Some birds actually like to nest around greenbrier or thorny rose bushes. Lucky me.

Wood thrushWood thrush feeding

Wood Thrush enjoy hiding from me and placing their nests in thorny bushes.

Greenbrier on left (Wellesley College), mutiflora rose on right. Imagine having to reach through a tangle of multiflora rose to find a bird nest.

Stinging nettle is another plant I’m not particularly fond of. These nettles tend to be found in wet or swampy areas. They release chemicals which cause a stinging or burning sensation as they brush against your skin. They can also pass through thin field pants, which I almost always wear when hiking in a wet environment because they dry quickly. You know what’s really not fun? Falling face-first into stinging nettle after tripping on a mudbank. I’ve also hand to use my bare hands to grab plants while traversing a steep mudbank, only to realize I was grabbing nettle. On another occasion, I avoided the nettle but fell into a creek instead. Hiking for a whole day while your feet and pants are soaking wet is the best. Life lesson? Nature is out to get you. Also, some plants are evil and conniving. The best way to deal with nettle is to smack it down and create a clear path. If life gives you lemons, cut life with a machete and throw the lemons back. How do you like that burn?!

There are also trees, such as black locusts, that sprout large thorns.  Two times I have reached out my hand to steady myself on a tree while navigating a steep hill (I didn’t want to slide down like a bobsled), only to be met with pain and bleeding. Placing your hand against mini spears is not advised. Life lesson? Sometimes it’s better to fall on your face and feel silly, rather than to try to control everything and experience pain. Why did I even count birds and chase after Wood Thrush?

Don’t look at me like that! You’ll make me feel guilty!

A few summers ago, I had the privilege of walking around the Gulf Coast looking for beach-nesting shorebirds the year after the big oil spill. My typical day involved walking 8-10 miles across beaches around the coast or on islands in the Gulf. There was usually no shade and temperatures were often in the 90’s with high humidity. I’ve never drank more water in my life than I did during those 2 months. One day, I drank 4 liters of water and 64 ounces of powerade. Stupid birds. Why do they have to nest in such brutal conditions? Go find a shade tree or nest in the winter. The main birds I followed were Wilson’s and Snowy Plovers, but I also recorded oystercatchers and terns which constantly screamed and dive-bombed me. Plovers often run for a distance, stop and look around, and then run again. That’s basically what I did, but without wings. Life lesson? Humans must suffer so that 7-inch birds can live. Or maybe great treasures (conserving birds + habitats) must come at a great cost? Nah, I’ll go with the first one.

Wilson  Least Tern Photo

Left – Wilson’s Plover © Cleber, Right – Least Tern aka “Little Screamer” © Gerrit Vyn

I had some other interesting adventures in the Gulf Coast involving boats which I’ll talk about in a future post. We can learn quite a bit from observing nature and I’m grateful for the opportunities that God has blessed me with – from handling raptors to running after plovers to following thrushes. Solomon was considered the wisest man in the world, and he often used examples in nature to teach lessons in the proverbs of the Bible. Why do I keep plunging into these experiences in the wild? Probably because I’m a sucker for punishment. Or maybe it’s to care for God’s creation and have experiences like these.


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