Wild Ontario
...Connecting you with Nature

The Other Layer

When we venture into Nature, into the wild areas, we encounter what we might call the Physical Layer. The hills and plains, rocky outcrops and riverbanks, marshes and swamps and creeks. Trees and wildflowers and meadows and swamps, grasses and reeds and other plants. The wind and rain and sun, stars and moon. Bear, moose, mink and raccoon, and a myriad of bird species, along with reptiles and amphibians. And the insects - yes, the mosquitoes - and insect eaters. Uphill, downhill, wet and dry, hot and cold, bright daylight and cloudy and darkness. All that. This is the measureable layer, the arena in which scientists play - biologists, botanists, geologists, and the rest. How many Arrow-leaved Asters are in htis meadow, per acre; what does that bear weigh; how much is this species declining over the past 1- years; what is the density of forst canopy cover; and so on.

Then there is what I would call the Personal Layer. This is the feel of sun on our face, the breeze in our hair, the feel of cold pure lake water as it falls down our thirsty throat. The sound of rain on the leaves, the roll of thunder in the sky, the many sounds of birds and other animals and insects. The smell of the rain and trees in the forest. The scents and sound of a campfire and perhaps the quiet talk of companions nearby. All the things that we personally experience with our senses and interact with.

There is a third layer, however, for which I don't have a name. Various cultures and people have referred to it using many different names over the ages. This is the unseen and unmeasureable layer. You cannot quantify it, you cannot package it and give it to someone. Most of us don't even have a name for it, in part because we have become blind to it. And it's difficult even to talk or write about it, because there are so few words for it.

There is an unseen feeling present in the wilds, that inspires a peace within us - assuming we quiet ourselves enough to sense it. It comes without beckoning it to us, without our imagining it. It is not something we cook up out of our fertile imaginations. When we stop and take time to breathe and to settle our thoughts, we begin to tune into this third layer. For want of a better word, for now I will call this the essence of Nature. This essence is present in all wild areas that have not been severely impacted by us humans. It is why virgin forest feels so special. It's like a backdrop to our whole wilderness experience. It's what makes us feel connected to the natural world. It is what brings us a feeling of peace from visiting the wild areas.

Tom Brown Jr used the phrase "The Spirit That Moves in All Things" to describe this in his classes at his wilderness survival, tracking and nature school. This phrase captures the sense of connectedness that arises from it.

This sense of connectedness is what some hunters tune into when they "know" there's a deer coming along. On the Physical Layer and Personal Layer levels, you could say that the hunter subconsciously interprets bird sounds, the wind, and other clues provided by the landscape and intrepreted by years of experience. But clearly there is more at work than that. It is what trackers may feel when they "know" where the animal or person being tracked even when physical signs are not visible to them.

When I am out exploring and looking for say, a rare orchid, it is this that I tune into when I ask "Where are you", and then, not knowing why I am drawn to go off trail at a particular place, stumble upon it. This and similar experiences have happened to me so often as to leave no doubt that it is this other layer at work. There is simply no other explanation.

Unfortunately, this essence, this feeling that you can tune into, this peace that comes with being in the wild places, is absent where there has been too much human intrusion. Sheer numbers of people will drive it totally away.

One often hears it said that it is a good thing that lots of people get out and discover the wild places, because then they will understand the value of Nature and seek to preserve it. Well, this may be true but only up to a point. If you get enough people tramping (or is that "trampling") through a natural wild area, without paying heed to the Nature they are walking through, soon that essence becomes less, and less, and then it becomes absent altogether. The area feels "flat". It has lost that third layer, and can now only be experienced on the Physical and Personal layers. A friend of mine who has since passed away, while we were walking through such a place, described it by saying, "the spirit keepers have left this place". That is how he saw it. I'm not suggesting you adopt his language to describe this, which especially for those who abhor New Age language is rather unhelpful! But it is one way to put words to something for which it is so difficult to find words.

Unfortunately, a good part of what i write here will be incomprehensible to those who venture into the wild areas with all the trappings and distractions of our society (cell phones, GPS, radios, other toys, noisy friends, and more). Because they will not quiet down enough to sense what it is I am talking about here.

And I cannot end this writing by encouraging you to seek out a wild area to experience this connectedness, this feeling, this essence, now can I? And if you don't understand the irony present here, please re-read all of the preceding! :)

(PS: And yes I also realize the irony of having ads on this page)



Walter Muma

Walter Muma

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