Peace Tree

As 2015 transitions into 2016 I wish everyone a joyous holiday season and a peaceful new year.

This time of year we slow down a bit and reflect on our loved ones and wish everyone the best in the new year to come.  Each new year brings opportunities and challenges to us all.

As a nature photographer, and scientist, I frequently think about human’s role on earth and how we fit in with the other species that also call Earth their home — particularly when I am out in nature.

Humans interact differently while observing something beautiful, like a bear fishing or a rainbow at sunset. People warm up and are more accepting of each other during these shared experiences.  At these times we identify together as common lovers of nature.  People smile at each other when you meet them on a trail and strangers share conversations while they watch wildlife. We are happy together in nature.

Perhaps if more people took the time to go outside and experience the outdoors we would have less conflict?  Even a walk in a city park does wonders for the soul.  I think that most people realize this, it is just taking that first step that is often the hardest.  There is always something else that “must get done”…

A few years ago I chose to pursue photography full-time as a career, and left being a government scientist.  I specialized in researching the underlying motivational factors for humans to pursue political violence.  After fifteen years doing this research I feel that lack of respect for other humans that share Earth with us is the most important factor.  I am worried about the USA in this regard.  What can each of us do to reduce the polarization and labeling of our fellow homo sapiens?

Perhaps getting outside more, being with nature and seeing how we fit in with the bigger picture will help.  It brings me peace and joy to show the beauty of nature to others.  If I had a magic wand to wave, I would grant an opportunity to everyone to spend a week or more out in the wilderness.  See the Milky Way, watch wild horses band together each night, observe a mother bear with her cubs, or ski through virgin snow in the wilderness.  Interestingly, sadly, I feel that my nature photography has more of a chance to bring peace than doing more political violence research.

Instead of photographing “a bear”, or a “Red-tailed Hawk”, I like to understand and show empathy for “that bear — the one that likes this part of the river”, or “that same Red-tailed Hawk that winters each year in the orchards behind my home”.  Once I started to look at wildlife as individuals of their given species,  nature became a more beautiful experience for me.  Simple labels are easy and are a sign of being lazy and weak.  A “bear”, a “hawk”, a “liberal”, a “conservative”, a “Christian”, a “Muslim”…  Booorrrrring…  What I remember the most about the people I have met in life are their stories, experiences, and ideas.  I really do not remember their “labels”.

In the new year I hope to spend at least a few minutes each day out in nature.  Being aware of our individual place in the natural world brings clarity and inner peace.  I want to learn more about the individuals I see out there, no matter what species they belong to, they all have a story to tell.  I look forward to listening and learning more about their stories.

Peace to all species that I am lucky to be on Earth with.

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