For those of you who are parents or have children in your life, you may be familiar with a sweet little book by P.D. Eastman titled “Are You My Mother?”
I can’t remember where we bought our copy – probably purchased with our Dr. Seuss collection at a local children’s resale store about ten years ago. I started reading it to my daughter around the age of two, and I was hooked. My daughter adored it, too.
If you don’t know the story, a baby bird falls out of the nest while her mother is away seeking food, and the baby bird spends the rest of the story asking everyone she encounters – a kitten, a hen, a dog, a cow, a car, a boat: “Are you my mother?”
Are you my mother? Over and over again. Are you my mother?
Long after I stopped reading the story to my daughter, I’ve thought of that baby bird’s journey. I’ve identified with the deep longing to be mothered, to find what I’m seeking, to return home.
Especially now, during the current pandemic, we crave comfort and connection. Many of us are experiencing a wide range of emotions – from fear, grief, uncertainty, and anger, to concern over we’ll be able to meet our most basic of needs.
In P.D. Eastman’s story, during her initial search the baby bird walks right by her mother. She does not recognize her. She does not see her. This post is a reminder that nature is available to support us all, if we are willing to open up our hearts and our front doors. But often we do not see her.
I grew up in a rural community, often spending long hours in the woods foraging for huckleberries, building elaborate forts, and climbing old growth Douglas firs. Later in life, nature continued to nourish me; sometimes I accessed nature through an apartment window, a poem, or a hiking trail. During times of transition or loss, I increased my nature engagement. Right now I live on several wooded acres, where I garden and roam. Soon I’ll transition back to the inner city, with new opportunities to explore.
In the story, the baby bird is on a kind of hero’s journey. The process of asking the question – Are you my mother – just as much a part of the baby bird’s journey as what she learns.
We’re at a pivotal time in human history – not only because of COVID-19, which has led us to realize how interconnected and vulnerable we all are, but because we can no longer ignore our global climate crisis. Our planet is deeply suffering, and so are we, and unless we learn how to take better care of one another, I fear for our mutual survival.
The very good news is that a rapidly growing body of research confirms the many health benefits of engaging with nature, whether it’s taking a virtual garden tour, watching a nature web cam, tending to a houseplant, walking to a park, or growing flowers on your patio. Nature interactions deliver more than just health and wellness benefits. She also helps us remember who we are – and who we long to be. Every day we learn more about climate change; how we can lessen our impact upon the Earth, and repair damage.
Mother Nature is everywhere. She’s in the sky, in the oceans, and in the soil. She’s the face of the birds, even if we walk past them without hearing or seeing.
Here’s my favorite part of this resilient story:
I did have a mother, said the baby bird. I know I did. I have to find her. I will. I WILL! She renews her search with increased urgency.
We humans benefit from mothering throughout our lifespan. The Earth also needs our care. We are no longer children, freshly fallen from the nest or cast out of the garden. As wise adults, we can acknowledge the consequences of our actions, however unintended, and recognize that while we deeply need, deeply hunger, deeply suffer, other beings share these experiences, too. Each of us capable of entering into loving, reciprocal relationship with one another, and our planet.
At the end of the story, the baby bird receives assistance but becomes frightened. For a moment, she resists the helper and cries out; suddenly, she finds herself back in her familiar nest, and another bird appears. After her long journey, she recognizes the bird as her mother. She sees herself in this fellow creature and she is home.
When I was a child, nature provided a mothering presence. She continues to feed me in more ways that I can ever know. The science is clear that we need nature for our physical, emotional, and spiritual survival. I’m dedicating this second half of my life to strengthening my relationship with her – for my own health, for hers, and for yours.
I hope you’ll join me.