At the conclusion of a recent talk on Meet Your Neighbours a member of the audience shared his view that, when it comes to photographing wildlife, species should only be handled by trained biologists; that animals and plants should be “left alone” by the layperson. I have to admit that I was rather taken off-guard by his comment. After all, the entire purpose of MYN is to help connect people with the wildlife in their own community and a roomful of supportive attendees seemed to agree that this was important. I reiterated to the commentator that our photographers work with licensed biologists when dealing with endangered or protected species but that for others, we work within a code of ethics that puts the well-being of the subject first. Yet, afterwards, I couldn’t help but dwell on his words. Why does this “hands-off” mentality exist?
Certainly a connection with nature doesn’t always have to come in the form of physical touch, but in my heart, I believe that an actual “touch-connection” with a species can be powerful. In particular, when it comes to a child’s connection with nature. Humans are a tactile species. Sure, you can see a butterfly in a field-guide, but nothing beats the elation that comes from the moment when a swallowtail perches on your fingertip for the first time or the experience of actually touching the soft silky texture of a snake’s scales with your own fingertips. This makes nature real to us and this participant’s reservation –admonition even– is a well-meaning symptom, I believe, of mankind’s growing separation from the natural world. We are part of nature just the same as the fly that lands on our arm to lap salt from our skin, or the phoebe that returns each year to built its nest under the eaves of my home. And yet, some still subscribe to the idea that it all comes down to us against them, which equates to nothing more than a divorce from our heritage and an unintentional arrogance that somehow we’ve moved past all that.
Of course, my sarcastic side wanted to ask whether or not he had checked the radiator grill of his car lately for six-legged corpses, or whether or not he had been careful to watch his feet while walking into the event hall in case a poor, passing ant happened to be crossing his path. But, of course, that would do no good. I recognize this.
What it all boils down to, in my thinking, is that we can take two approaches:
1.) Make nature separate, something somewhere else that is above mankind and unaccessible. In the end, I believe that this will ultimately not only result in more species preserved behind glass in a museum somewhere, but that it will also rob our own species of ever being able to return back to our true home. We’ve strayed so far and we desperately need to return to “the garden” as it were. Have we evolved so much that we are somehow beyond all that now?
2.) Begin to recognize (remember) that all species interact in various ways. That the eco-systems consist of chains of organisms that interact on a daily basis. We are not exempt from this. The difference is that we can use the knowledge that we have, and the consciousness that we have, to be good stewards, to love our fellow creature and promote their continued protection. Yes, this can all be taken too far. I realize that if there is a way for a humanity to abuse a privilege, it will be done, but this isn’t what I’m talking about and hopefully you as the reader will understand this.
In short, I believe that cutting ourselves off from contact with nature will ultimately mean a death sentence for all of us. I understand that my opinions in this piece may not sound politically correct. So, what do you think? Has an actual, physical connection with the wildlife where you live made a difference in your own lives?