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ON BEING A BIOLOGIST: From "Living Alone in the World of Wounds" to the Joy of Connecting Children to Nature

About the Author

Bob Peart is the Chair of Nature Canada and the founding Chair of the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada. Bob is a committed advocate for protecting nature and has a life-long passion for sharing his love for nature and getting children and their families reconnected to the outdoors.

I walked up to my mother when I was about 10 years old and said: “Mum I’m going to be a biologist.” Little did I know the journey that lay ahead. The journey of sharing my passion and love for nature has taken me to extraordinary places throughout the world to hike, bird watch and explore; and the catalyst for intriguing conversations with wonderful, enthusiastic people in many walks of life.

This journey has been one of advocacy and it has taken me to workshops, political boardrooms and kitchen tables to plan and scheme how to protect nature. This journey has been one of learning and it has taken me to classrooms, nature centers and museums to help families and children experience nature and understand better how the web-of-life works. Both these aspects of my journey met with success.

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This journey has also been one of joy, perhaps spirituality, as I witnessed nature in all its grandeur — whether that is a sea otter floating on the ocean, the Grand Canyon vista or the massive movement of migrating birds. This journey has also been one of grief and sadness as I witnessed the wanton destruction of wild places and incremental ecological breakdown, in the name of the progress.

As time passed I found it increasingly difficult to enjoy the moment of a soaring osprey or roaming grizzly bear, without being concerned about the future and the harm that humans are doing to their habitat. These thoughts brought sadness to my spirit and a sense of remorse so strong that it began to erode the joy and wonder that I had for it all – to the point that “the burden of the world: led to a deterioration of my physical and mental health. For me to question the value of any efforts to save nature hit me at the core, and I had difficulty putting the consequences of climate change and the increasing world population into perspective.

One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds; as much of the damage inflicted on the land is quite invisible to the layman. — Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac 1966

I asked myself: “What’s the point? Where is the hope? Where does it all stop?” Well for some of my colleagues it stopped with alcoholism, marriage break-ups and, for a few, even suicide.

And then, without warning, the hope that my spirit so desperately craved emerged. That hope came through the book Last Child in the Woods and the gentle reminder of how I felt being with nature as a kid, and in the joy of laughter from children outside playing.

My journey is now refreshed by the memories of the hours that children spend outside running in the leaves, hunting for squirrels with a BB gun or following animal tracks in the snow. The outdoors is a place of personal discovery, messing around and learning about neat stuff. Because of that experience I am truly thankful and for that experience I have hope.

What I am learning is that maintaining hope, in the face of what sometimes feel like insurmountable odds, takes deliberate, conscious and concerted effort. The world isn’t going to be rescued by government, wishful thinking, blind optimism or some new machine. There is no anonymous ‘they’ who are going to figure things out. Hope, real hope, comes from doing the things before us and making our contribution to society in a spirit of thankfulness and recognition that each little bit helps.

Hope won’t come without a positive vision for the world that embraces ecological health, biodiversity in our cities, places to play in nature and a future that provides a safe and healthy environment for humans.

So my renewed journey as a biologist continues as an optimistic realist, knowing that doing what is best to protect nature and sharing my love for the outdoors with children comes with rewards both in my heart and for life and the natural systems around me.

 Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” — Mary Oliver, The Summer Day 1992

Bob Peart was recently awarded Canada’s highest conservation award, The J.B.Harkin Medal. He is Founding Chair of the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada.

A video of Bob Peart talking about the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada.

Bob Peart’s Robert Bateman Lecture, Royal Roads University.

Child and Nature Alliance on Facebook.

6 Comments

  1. I love what you are doing and appreciate this article.
    I would like to communicate with Bob Peart directly`
    – to see if he knew my father, Raymond Peart , from Humboldt County , Northern California. He was an Environmental activist, Wild Rivers Advocate, involved in the establishment of Redwood National Park , County Supervisor and avid outdoorsman. Would you pass this comment on to him directly, please?

    Reply
  2. Thank you for sharing for thoughts. Your words will echo the feelings of many others on the topic, including myself. Which is why I’m involved with the Kamloops Young Naturalists’ Club. Keep up the great work and congratulations on your well deserved conservation award.

    Rich

    Reply
  3. I work with Bob and will pass along your comments.

    Thanks,
    Becs

    Reply
  4. I would be willing to hazard a guess that your article will touch a nerve with many of your readers. It is important to acknowledge “the world of wounds” as it helps us to focus our passion for the natural world and to reach out to inspire others. Thanks.

    Reply
  5. It’s been many years since I’ve had the privilege of working in environmental education, and I miss it terribly. Your words resonate strongly as I often feel I ‘wimped out’ by leaving the field when the organization I worked for disintegrated. It’s good to remember that even small actions that honour nature add up on the positive side! I’m counting down my last years towards a retirement that will include a return to the outdoor activities I love….and I’m truly looking forward to it.

    Reply
  6. Dear Bob,
    What a truly inspiring & beautiful article. Thank you for sharing a snippet of your thoughts & being so open about your feelings. It is perhaps a topic that is not often so openly discussed.

    Being a Sustainability professional & avid nature lover your words resonated so much but so importantly also made me smile. Thank you for reminding me how invigorating it is to remember why we embarked on our journeys in the first place & for want of a better phrase get back in touch with nature as much as possible!

    There is fantastic work happening out of Canada that is a source of inspiration for me over here in Australia. I look forward to reading more articles & posts from you.

    Reply

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