THE BLOG
04/22/2014 09:37 am ET Updated Jun 22, 2014

Getting to the Soul of Our Connection to Nature

We are all connected to nature at the cellular level of our being, so what we do to nature, how we take care of it, we can feel the consequences of those actions -- as Rachel Carson put it -- "in the very marrow of our bones." However, if we are ever to see a force of collective actions to conserve and protect the environment by people from some of the most diverse communities across this country, the intrinsic connection between humanity and the rest of earthly life has to penetrate even deeper than bone marrow, to animate and move us in our very soul.

I am talking about the thoughtful, inspiring subject-to-subject connection to nature and wildlife recently expressed to me by a young Hispanic mother living in Baltimore. As she began to share, she paused, and then she became very passionate as she exclaimed that she resonates with bird migration along the great flyways of the Americas because the arduous seasonal journeys for birds are not unlike journeys her family has faced as they emigrated from Mexico. This is the soul-bridging level, the level where we understand that establishing healthy habitats and reducing threats to safety and health along these journeys are just as relevant for this young woman's family as for the birds. She talked about how eager she was that her children learn about birds, "especially because these same birds we see in the park here in the city may have been in my mother's back yard back in Mexico before." It is from her soul that she is a bird conservationist and embraces the necessity of accessing clean air, clean water and healthy food. She knows these basics for life are just as vital for her essence as they are for every living being on the planet.

Another inspiring, soul-stirring expression of awe and wonder from being connected to nature touched me during a hike in a beautiful urban oasis on the south side of Chicago last fall. The three women leading the hike were African American and all lived in the surrounding neighborhood. They were proudly showing off their newly learned skills as urban naturalists and thoughtfully ambled along the lush, woody trail in the forest preserve.

As the sun warmed the path, we tuned in to bird songs, instead of the common sounds of police sirens, and were identifying purple, white and yellowish wildflowers dotting the edges of the path, when all of a sudden, the women huddled together in a big, happy hug. Then one of the women exclaimed "I feel like doing the Beyoncé dance, because it makes me feel so good to be out here!"

"I feel free and relaxed in a way that I cannot be at home, in the city," further proclaimed another one of the women. And they raised their arms in the air, began popping their fingers, and we all started rocking our shoulders and swaying our hips to a natural beat and rhythm among the trees which connected all of us, women and nature in a deeply, moving, spiritual experience with the natural surroundings. This healthy catharsis for these women, in the middle of the trail, was also at the soul-bridging level where they embraced and celebrated how becoming naturalists and taking care of the forest in the midst of their neighborhood was vital to their health and their urban existence.

The traditional, scientific-based, subject-to-object approach to conservation often misses how Hispanics, African Americans, Native Americans and many other people from diverse backgrounds connect to nature at a deeper, subject-to-subject, soul-embracing level where conservation is intrinsically relevant and actionable. At Audubon, we're trying to create more opportunities for soul-level connections through our nature centers, our Toyota TogetherGreen community conservation program and other initiatives, and I see those efforts coming to life through that mom in Baltimore and those urban naturalists in Chicago.

The more that we can facilitate opportunities for people to recognize and acknowledge the inspired and animated ways they connect to nature and conservation action, the more that people from diverse backgrounds will invigorate and transform issues like pollution, climate change, habitat degradation, food deserts, the rapid extinction of rain forests and wildlife and more, all conservation concerns that can and must be addressed from our very soul.