Nature Diary 1: Nature experience

This post is also available in: Dutch.


We just returned from a trip to the Netherlands where we have spent the holidays with family. We had a great time. It wasn’t even really cold, because during our stay the daytime temperature remained comfortably above 5 degrees Celsius. Before our departure we were warned about the predicted severe winter weather in December, but that did not happen. During our stay we were reminded, however, of the important role of nature in the ‘small country’ bounded by the North Sea. Due to excessive rainfall, which began in November last year, combined with high water levels in the North Sea and a few ‘well positioned’ storms, the rivers and drainage systems that flow into the North Sea no longer could discharge their water load as usual. The consequence of this was, that the water levels along the dikes reached such heights that in different places dike breaching was feared. Several areas in Groningen and Friesland were evacuated as a precaution. Not only the human inhabitants were asked to leave but hundreds of farm animals were evacuated as well. The discussions about what was happening were very lively, dealing not only with the issue of possible poor condition of levees, a dangerous condition in a country which for a considerable part lies below sea level, but also whether the Netherlands would be able to keep up with the potential effects of climate change, more precipitation and higher predicted sea levels. Some scholars even talked about the allocation of funds to relocate whole towns to higher parts of the country, instead of ‘wasting’ money to keep up with the progressively higher water levels.

Even in wintertime without snow, simple things like the reflection of tree in a small pond can trigger a sense of beauty.

What will the weather do?

Not only the discussions about the water levels were ‘hot’. The relatively warm weather continuing up to the first half of January also kept the minds churning. In different parts of the Netherlands the flower bulbs were already sprouting, buds were forming on trees, and there were even observations of blackbird nestlings hatching, developing and fledging. Bird species, which normally would migrate to warmer areas in the south during the autumn, stayed cozily put. This all to the dismay of worried nature lovers.
The worries are not unjustified, because the warm weather can still turn rapidly into real winter weather, with temperatures well below freezing, heavy snow, ice and hail. And with this the first enthusiasts among the flora and fauna would be ruthlessly punished. This is where people were afraid of. (update: this fear proved to be justified, unfortunately. At this moment several parts of Europe are experiencing a severe cold spell, including the Netherlands, with temperatures of minus 18 degrees Celsius).

Mandatory experience

Altogether, these conditions in Holland made sure that every inhabitant, whether liking it or not, was forced to be aware of the effects of nature on the immediate living and working environment, on an almost daily basis. It is like a mandatory nature experience, you might say. And this feels not always positive.

Some species of plants have the honor to be considered beautiful almost always. An example of this are orchids. The picture shows the local white orchid (Brassavola nodosa).

What is a nature experience?

Experiencing nature, both in the immediate living or working environment, and during leisure activities or through television documentaries is very personal. Each person will experience nature differently, based on previous positive or negative experiences and frameworks that are defined by education, culture and society. He or she will experience nature completely in his or her own way, using stimuli received directly or indirectly. Someone who ‘doesn’t care’ about nature can be made aware of details in nature by means of an introduction done by a person or documentary. A beautiful butterfly, flower or a beautiful view might do the trick and create a positive experience of nature which will trigger a positive shift in appreciation level.

Experiencing nature has a lot to do with emotions. Happiness, joy, wonder, fear, anger and disgust are all emotions that come into play. But also granting a value or meaning to the experiences with nature are part of the process. You need to learn to deal with, and come to terms with the emotions triggered by nature, in order for nature to become valuable to you.

Part of my negative-positive nature experience 'database'!

A good example was my welcome gift of nature on the first day after our return from the Netherlands. I was unpacking the suitcases and was organizing and putting away the clothes when I experienced a painful prick in my side. A maribomba, or paper wasp, landed on my back during my busy rummaging through dirty underwear and crept under the edge of my t-shirt where the animal suddenly got stuck when I bent down, and defended itself by stabbing me twice. The first reaction to the pain and realizing who the culprit was, resulted in a squashed wasp, the remains of which were thrown into the garden with disgust. When the pain began to subside, I started to regret my act enormously. Okay, the animal did not belong in the house, in my opinion, and not under my shirt, but I could have removed the animal from the house in a different way. Through my previous experience with these animals, combined with the sense of wonder that always arises when I see how hard these animals work and how little aggressive they are, my umpteenth negative experience transformed me into finding ways to remove these critters from the house alive, in the best possible way.

But I can understand very well that someone, who has no such experience and positive framework about these insects will reach for the bottle of insecticide. On the other hand, I would like to point out the wonderful peculiarities of these animals, that positive frameworks can be created around them!

About Michelle da Costa Gomez