There is something inherently organic and emotionally recharging about air flow that comes from natural sources versus artificially manufactured airflow.
As I sit in the window seat of an airplane for a quick flight from Boston to New York, the view outside turns from the dotted horizon of lights and buildings into an opaque sea of white. There lies a great unknown.
Somewhere deep inside, I understand this is unnatural and I feel like a foreign traveler in an unknown city. The language feels familiar and yet I can’t speak a word of it.
A man diagonal to me opens his laptop to work on a presentation. Across the aisle, my husband reads on his tablet, and next to me a kid buys a wifi package and starts scrolling down his social media feed.
How disconnected we are from this grandeur, this awe-inspiring moment that humans could only once dream and wonder about, I think, as we break free from the white sea and are greeted by a seemingly untouched world above the clouds. What we identify now with scientific words like troposphere, one of the lower layers of the atmosphere, is something that we could have never hoped to see in a lifetime not too long ago.
Yet here we are, taking it for granted. Most of the passengers on the plane can’t even be bothered to open the windows. This isn’t important to them.
When did we become so disconnected with our home? When did this plant blindness turn so rapidly into environmental blindness?
Becoming re-connected with the ecosystem is not a passive activity. Our common way of life in modern society does not accommodate this so-called leisure easily. We must go out of our way to visit botanical gardens and take days off to sit in natural areas.
Not just manicured natural areas, either. This sort of natural area, such as grassy parks cut to 1/4th inch every week might be easy access to keep us sustained on a regular basis in cities, but it is not enough to be our only exposure to nature.
Cultivated conservation grounds and outdoor botanical gardens are closer to what I seek. I want to see the unkept nature of native habitats, watching bees buzz and curious chipmunks investigating who I am. I am them, and they are me, and together we can reconstruct a reciprocal bond with nature, the way it was meant to be between human and animal and plant. There is no top-down hierarchy here, only cyclical reciprocation. There is no place for technology here.
This realization hit me, sitting in the LaGuardia airport in New York during a layover. The cool, air-conditioned building felt unnatural after spending much of the summer with the windows to my home office open, letting the natural breeze determine the temperature.
In front of me, a large fountain installation sat near a small food court. From the ceiling, jets colored with artificial lights sprayed astounding patterns into the circular pool below. Through clever use of timed controls, the jets sprayed a stream of water from the ceiling to floor creating checkerboard patterns, double-helixes, and even doves in flight.
It was a beautiful display, but I kept thinking about the electrical and water waste necessary to create a structure that few people stopped to enjoy. Still, I could feel genuine gratitude for one aspect of this display: the waves of organic air that came from water crashing into water. Sitting close enough to the fountain, you could feel when this water hit the pool below, as a gentle breeze washed over you. It was the same gentle-yet-powerful breeze that I have felt at the base of waterfalls and streams.
This breeze was a welcome respite in a busy week of mechanical dismay. Overworked and tired from a recent family loss and too much travel with too little time to complete work deadlines, I had been neglecting my need for exposure to sunlight and nature, yet here it was to greet me in the most unlikely of places.
With the installation finished, it was time to board another plane. This time, however, I boarded with a gift from the earth, still clinging to its true nature despite the boxes we’ve tried to make it conform to. Perhaps this gift was more than a deep feeling of gratitude and stress relief, but a lesson in itself:
We are taught to manufacture our own motivation and gumption to go through the motions of life and work, work, work. Be productive, life can wait until the weekend.
Without ingredients or resources, however, we cannot manufacture much of anything.
If it is important enough, we will make the time for it in our lives, but it still takes a spark to create a fire.
As someone who lives life in a constant fugue of tiredness and a constant struggle for energy, I realized I have been neglecting the spark for so long, preventing my fire.
I have always said that inaction is a form of action, in every part of life. You cannot ignore something to remove a problem. So why hadn’t I listened to myself?
Spending a day reading next to the brook at the local plant club provides a sort of motivational energy that can propel me through an entire weekend with more life and vibrancy than I might have all week long, but this spark isn’t enough to catch. It takes more air flow for the spark to spread into a glowing ember and catch alight. So why haven’t I dedicated more time and listened to the air before, trying to teach me its ways?
Would I say “maybe tomorrow” or “maybe next week” for the next year?
It’s easy to do that until there is no more “next week” for us to live.
So yesterday, I sat in the rain and listened to the music of dancing raindrops on my skin, watching the thirsty moss come alive and flourish, growing greener with every drop it absorbed. I too began to come alive again.
Today I sit in the sunlight and listen to the breeze, musing on its teachings and doing my best to learn like an eager student hanging on every word of their professor’s lecture.
Tomorrow, I do not know what I will learn or who my professor will be, but I will do my best to listen and learn.