The slow and careful study of “backyard ecology” — the flora, fauna, fungi, climate, weather, geology, etc., of our local environments — provides an opportunity to hone and enjoy the use of all five senses. It gives us a chance to practice controlling the focus of our attention. It offers an endless stream of questions to ponder, which link to and may motivate future studies in history, math, the sciences, and the arts:
- What made the pretty pattern of lines in that rock?
- Why did the birds all suddenly go quiet?
- How can I predict the weather, by observing the world around me?
- What might this landscape have looked like, back when all that grass was sea?
- How can I portray or record the strange little dance I just saw that lizard do?
- Why does twilight feel different in winter than in summer?
The analysis can be as simple or detailed as the individual scholar desires. There is always room for deeper analysis, when reviewing nature journal entries, later on.
As an added benefit, time spent in nature, focused on the complex beauty of the world, tends to quieten mind, body, and spirit. Cultivating a habit of spending time in nature develops an invaluable life-skill for children and adults who so often become overstimulated by life.
Finally, nature study provides a rich array of topics for discussion, and many opportunities to practice exploring similarities and differences in experience — without getting caught up in the “right” vs. “wrong” game. The ability to question another, out of a genuine curiosity about differences in experience, rather than a desire to win or reform, is prerequisite to the development of true compassion.
Scholars engaged in nature study do so primarily by way of nature rambles, field observations, nature journaling, and consultations with naturalists — or library research, as required — to identify and understand the objects and phenomena discovered in the field.