I mean, NOBODY is talking.
We have agreed to the assignment—joining two naturalists at the UGA Costa Rica campus on a two-hour silent hike through one of the trails that abut the campus.
As we climb higher and higher, up switchbacks and occasionally stumbling over tree roots, the quiet lends itself to a meditative experience. There is no conversation to interrupt the hiker’s sensations. We tell no stories of home; we make no jokes about the bug on the Naturalist’s hat; we do not “ooh” and “ahh” in the manner of tourists.
The naturalists limit themselves to silently pointing out things—ants, a particular epiphyte, a Toucan as it hops in the branches of the canopy.
The quiet brings about a heightened awareness of our surroundings—using all of one’s senses.
Breathe in. Become aware of a foggy ravine ahead.
Breathe out. Make a turn and see a sun spotted summit.
Breathe in. Feel the damp water vapor on skin.
Breathe out: Hear the shrill of a bird in an ear.
How should we think about our place in Nature? We are used to thinking in dualities: Natural and Artificial; Animal and Human. On a hike such as this one, I know no such distinctions. I can watch the hummingbird zip across the path in front of us and I feel no more a guest in Nature as it is. I trip, and I feel that my own attempt to catch myself on a low hanging branch is no different than the Howler Monkey that prowls somewhere in the canopy above me
What is our place in this forest? Are we just guests while the animals are the true inhabitants? I don’t think so. Rather in the manner of an epiphany, I realize I that the Silence on this hike has reminded me of something seminal, even fundamental: The connection I feel with this place is not one of a human reaching across boundaries and touching something foreign, but rather one of embeddedness in nature. Try as we might, we cannot escape our station as wholly natural beings, whether we realize it or not.
E.O. Wilson talks about Biophilia—an innate love that humans have for nature. I agree. But, to begin the journey from Biophobia (aversion to nature) to Biophilia, we must first realize our place here in Nature. We must realize that everything about us is Natural, and this means that we come from it.
It is a realization that terrifies most people.
But it is a place where we all must begin. Preferably, on a silent hike in the forests of Costa Rica.