When Nature Looks Back

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You looking at me? A squirrel on the Scenic Point trail, Glacier National Park, July 2014.

Sometimes, no walking is needed to become more aware of the world around you. All it takes is keen observation. And sometimes, this observation goes both ways. In his book Blue Highways, William Least Heat-Moon says, “It’s a curious sensation when nature looks back.”

Do we personify the world around us? Sure. What good are we humans if not to convince ourselves that everything else is, somehow, like us? And yet, perhaps part of it is reducing our own status to acknowledge that through comparisons, we merely seek to become more a part of that world around us, to see our place in it.

In the afterword to Dayton Duncan’s and Ken Burns’ (highly recommended)The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, Duncan describes, in his characteristically emotion-laden but down-to-earth way, an encounter he and his son had in Glacier National Park in 1998. The two were hiking to Hidden Lake–a trail that shouldn’t be overlooked in spite of its usual crowds–and found themselves alone on the trail. Well, almost. There was also a family of mountain goats passing by. “Will’s eyes were the size of saucers when one of the adults… paused briefly and looked him up and down before moving on,” he writes.

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Hidden Lake Trail, Glacier National Park, July 2014.

“In that brief moment–though it seemed a lifetime–something had changed,” Duncan continues. “We were no longer visitors to a place magnificent but unfamiliar, and equally no longer representatives of a species that has steadfastly endeavored to dominate and control the planet and everything upon it. We were simply sharing the trail with the goats, and they, it seemed, with us. In that vast amphitheater of Nature, some dim memory buried deep within the DNA of all human being was awakened. We had surrendered any notion of dominion to become part of something bigger than ourselves. Part of it all.”

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A goat and I pass each other on the Hidden Lake Trail, July 2014.

I stumbled across the following article, “The Fox Who Came to Dinner,” in The New York Times today. It in, Karen Auvinen describes how she came to feed a fox on a regular basis. She and nature didn’t just look at each other; they interacted. I wondered, as I read, in what ways might such human participation in the lives of wild animals be an extension of being “part of it all” as opposed to interference in natural habitats? And yet, hadn’t she, through her many years of living on the mountain, become part of the habitat, after all?

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A deer toward the Many Glacier end of the Swiftcurrent Pass trail, July 2014.
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