This Earth Day, Become Friends with the Natural World

By Holland Gistelli

Pepperwood Education Programs Coordinator

When you take a walk outdoors in April in the Bay Area, you are sure to find a world teeming with life. All the natural splendors of spring are here – birdsong in the air, bright blooms dotting yards and hillsides, lizards darting across rocks, and the bugs! Insects are everywhere – crane flies, lady beetles, crickets, and butterflies.

It could be difficult not to notice all this beautiful and busy life abounding around us this time of year. But, I can understand why people might give only a passing glance – especially if they don’t recognize the voice of that bird, or haven’t learned the name of that moth. Consider this: if you were to spot a person you know on the street, you’d likely greet them and have a friendly conversation rather than pass them by as strangers. The difference in having already met someone means that you will notice them, and recognize their place in this world.

As a child, I had always loved the natural world though I did not necessarily know all the names of the plants and animals around me. As an adult, I found my return to my childhood naturalist roots through an introduction to a new friend. I had been noticing small birds around my house with dark black heads, and I realized I had no idea who they were. I checked out a field guide to birds from the library, and discovered that these were Dark-eyed Juncos. Then I saw these feathered friends everywhere, and soon I learned to recognize some of their behaviors and songs as well!

Getting to know your neighbors, human and non-human, is a powerful act of community. For me, the process of noticing the Juncos and actively identifying them formed a personal and empowering connection. Suddenly, I wanted to know all the birds in my neighborhood, and the plants, and the insects! I also wanted to introduce them to my friends and family and found great joy in doing so. One of the beautiful things about this process is that anyone, of any age or background can be part of it – it is never too early or too late to connect with nature.

This Earth Month, why not turn some of your wild neighbors into acquaintances, or perhaps even good friends, by participating in this year’s City Nature Challenge. The event kicks off on April 29th and goes through May 2nd. It’s a global community/citizen science contest that invites everyone to go outside and notice, document, and help identify the plants and animals in their cities using iNaturalist. I encourage you to take part in the City Nature Challenge this year, and bring your friends and family along too. You’ll learn more about the species that live in your community, you’ll contribute to science, AND you’ll make your city a better place – for you and other species!

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