Can One be “Out” of Nature?

Being “in nature.”

What does that even mean?  As is sometimes the case, I’ve recently had a few different versions of the “nature” question presented to me in a variety of formats, all within just a few days.  

Maybe that–being presented with different versions of an idea within a short amount of time–happens with a greater degree of frequency than I think it does and I just don’t notice it, but I don’t think so.  I mean, it’s common on social media, but that’s only after I do an internet search for something. 

Look!  A squirrel! 

Back to nature.  Being out in nature.  

Okay, one more aside: one of the bits of information that recently came my way concerned the flora and fauna of one’s indoor spaces.   As in, under one’s bed or in one’s bathroom.  In one’s kitchen or living room.  Indoors.  Kind of cool to think about, unless you’re trying to go to sleep.

That’s not what I’m writing about, though.  I’m writing about another idea, that of the natural succession of disturbed land.  

It’s early December, and the sun sets early enough that getting outside after school can be a challenge.  It was something I wanted to do on a recent afternoon, though, so I clocked out as soon as I could and came straight home.  After a quick change of clothing into something warmer, my wife and I were back out the door.  We wanted to walk on some trails at a local land preserve called Harvest Square.  It’s really close to the house–just a five-minute-or-so drive–and we love it for its convenient location.

It’s a small preserve with just about a mile of trail that winds through it.  The land, as I understand it, was donated by the developer who built a small shopping area (a grocery store and the usual assortment of small businesses that one finds nearby) adjacent to the preserve, and it includes two ponds that were formed when dirt was excavated to level the construction site.  

There is a significant amount of land undergoing natural succession, as well as a stand of woods that hasn’t seen cutting in at least a few decades.

Most of this preserve is what I understand to be disturbed land.  Land that’s not as natural processes made it.  Land that has recently seen bulldozers and other heavy equipment as well as chainsaws and piles of debris that smolder for days after the half-hearted attempt to burn them. 

Disturbed land.

As we walked that trail, though, I wondered if the birds flying through the trees and the occasional squirrel in the undergrowth got the memo, as they say.

In the area of north Alabama where I live, natural succession above the grasses and forbs often starts with one of the Callery pears, either the Bradford or Cleveland.  They’re invasive, and absolutely dominate until taller trees take over in a decade or so.

The birds, though, nest in their branches and find concealment in their leaves.

Loblolly pines are one of the few trees that can compete with the Callery pears, and their early growth is vigorous.  Loblolly pines are the type of tree that is often planted after a clear cut so lumber companies can say they replanted.  The loblolly is a wonderful tree in its own right, but it’s certainly not the oak or hickory it typically replaces.

The squirrels, though, find food by destroying the green cones in an effort to get to the developing seeds, and the birds are happy to eat what the squirrels do not, although not until the cone matures in a few more weeks.

The Callery pears and the loblolly pines are signs of disturbed land, yet they’re still nature.  Deer run through them, snakes and other reptiles live in the detritus and debris at their bases, and fish–brought in through the ephemeral creek that runs through the property–swim in their shadows.  

Nature.

I know that the big picture isn’t as many would want it, including myself.  Earth moving equipment (let that term sink in for a moment) wouldn’t have torn the original flora up by its roots or disturbed the native fauna.  Yet, it did, and nature is doing its thing and covering the scars.  Small picture stuff, but I’ll take it. 

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