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5 Ways To Reconnect To The Earth For The Sake Of Your Health

I remember learning from connection phenomenologist Jon Young about an awareness held by the San people of the Kalahari Desert, likely the oldest continuous culture on earth. The San have a concept of building ropes. It goes something like this:

If you go out in nature and recognize an individual bird, in that moment of recognition, a tiny, energetic thread forms between you. Each time you go out into nature and recognize that animal, this thread grows a little bit stronger until it becomes a cord, and then a rope.

The San say that becoming San–becoming human, really–is to create ropes with all of creation.

When I first encountered this awareness, it opened my mind. It had never occurred to me that it was possible to recognize an individual bird. I was used to identifying species of birds, pleased with myself to recognize a dark-eyed junco or a Bewick’s wren. The San’s philosophy stunned me. Was it possible, I wondered, to build a rope between myself and an animal? I don’t live in the Kalahari region or hunt with a bow and arrow. I generally stalk my food in aisle seven of Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.

But one day, my daughter and I were walking around our home, and we paused to watch a group of hummingbirds sword fighting with their bills in vivid displays of territorial dominance. Up they went, 50 to 100 feet, before they swooshed down, snapping their tails and chasing away competitors before landing on a branch.

We both noticed that one particular hummingbird kept coming back to the same branch, about the width of a pencil, on a small crepe myrtle tree. We moved closer to the tree until we were six feet away. The birds were too fast to track through the air, but reliably, the bird returned to this same branch three, four, and five times. On perhaps the sixth return, my daughter and I realized that the bird was missing several feathers on its facial ruff. It was like he had a bald patch in his beard. And uncannily, precisely at this moment, the hummingbird turned toward us both and stared into our eyes. We both felt a jolt. We looked at each other, and our mouths dropped open. It was real.

For the next month, we visited “Flurry the Hummingbird” each day. We would wonder where he was when he spent too much time away from his favorite perch. A month later, when he left to migrate, we both grieved. For those magical days, we’d had a hummingbird for a friend, and suddenly new motions, new songs, and new rhythms had entered our days and dreams. I think about him still, and this was five years ago.

Once you make friends with a hummingbird, you notice them everywhere. They become woven into the net of your belonging, as does anything you truly love. And with this seeing of one another arises an accountability. I would have helped Flurry if I could have, and I certainly wouldn’t have harmed him. What we are connected to, we have a relationship with, take care of, and value. What we don’t, we don’t.

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