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.
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
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.