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Ideas about Nature - Interview with Carolyn Allen

Carolyn Allen draws from the wisdom of nature to focus creativity and innovation on sustainability in business, community and family life. This interview expresses some of Carolyn's deeply held opinions about how life can be more creative, more innovative, and more rewarding when we connect with nature.

Marian Pappaceno is BellaOnline's Animal Life Host

Interview with Carolyn Allen, Backyard Naturalist

First, I'd like to thank Carolyn Allen for agreeing to participate in this interview. I was impressed by her newsletters, so I thought she would be a natural.

1. How does one become a backyard naturalist?

I've researched the formal definition of a backyard naturalist...and can't find one. So to me, that term is like claiming to be an 'artist". If you feel it in your heart, you are one, therefore, the way you become a backyard naturalist is by committing yourself to learning, respecting and appreciating the common as well as the uncommon nature found around you. Looking beyond, beneath and inside the obvious is my way of discovering the wonders of nature.

2. What does it mean "walk gently with the earth"?

Respect is a key concept in walking gently with anyone. Gentleness is about respecting your own humble role in a much larger reality. And at the same time, the gentleness of a mother nursing is also one of the most powerful of roles -- the nurturing of new life. Gentleness isn't just about's about choosing nurturing actions that respect others as much as yourself.

3. Because "facts of nature" are constantly changing as new information is "discovered," are there any absolutes? Or are there only theories being made that have to be "disproven" to become false?

Maybe "change" is the basic absolute. We really don't know the answer to that, do we? We have limited sensory ranges, and limited intellectual capabilities, and limited access to the knowledge our search for understanding will always be partial as far as I can envision. We can "know enough" to participate in life by being observant, experiential, and thoughtful -- and that is the sphere of reality in which we live our flicker of life.

4. What would you recommend to parents to get their children away from the video games and interested in nature?

I find that parents are very interested in their children learning about nature. However, they don't value learning about nature themselves nearly as much. So the real opportunity is "how to get adults interested in nature". :-) Being couped up in a house is very surrealistic. Only by having contact with nature do you discover how rewarding it respectful of your personal power. If we choose to conduct specific functions of life out in nature, we might start a habit of being a natural person -- functions such as meditating, drawing, singing, etc. that we use as respite and regeneration.

5. What about the world continues to surprise you?

The elegance of design found in every nook and cranny of nature continues to astound me...and the unexpectedness of design in unlikely places surprises me. For example...the elegance of a crystal of salt...the embedded intelligence of a leaf of grass that twists to absorb sunshine...the use of a squirrel's tail to communicate. Amazing!

6. Mankind has done so much to destroy the environment. If you could pick just one cause, what would it be and why?

I would choose to encourage and educate about ethical maturity. With freedom comes responsibility, and when I see television ads of sports vehicles tearing up the delicate wild terrain for the thrill of speed and power, I see a poverty of ethics, of taking responsibility for one's role in life. It goes back to respect...respecting the most humble parts of nature as much as the most beautiful or most powerful or most satisfying.

7. Describe one of the great moments of discovery you have had as a naturalist.

I tried to move a cute little spider from an inside houseplant to the outdoors...and ended up handicapping the spider with margarine, and than placing it within the reaches of a larger, predatory spider. My lack of decisionmaking effectiveness and thoughtlessness in spite of my good intentions impacted me deeply. I think we all share that kind of innocent impact on the world around us...and we need to acknowledge our humility, our limits to improve things. And walk gently with respect.

8. Do you really think mankind will eventually overcome our selfishness and live with the earth instead of against it?

The earth is a very volatile system. We live with the earth every day...and most of us don't consider our daily actions to be "against it". We just try to survive and thrive like all the other life forms. I believe that the earth is more intelligent than humans or any species. The earth...and the universal laws of change are in control more than we are. The earth cleanses itself of species run amuck...who knows if and when we'll recognize that repetitive behavior of nature and learn that prevention is the better part of valor...

9. Why is it important to observe nature? What can we learn from it?

One researcher in the field of ecopsychology has expressed the belief that we have far more than 5 senses. He lists 54, I believe. Many are in the intuitive and subconscious realm of experiencing the world around us. Though bonding with nature -- intensive use of our senses in a natural setting, we build a relationship with plants and animals and insects and rocks and soil ...etc. And by bonding with the raw elements of our own physical being (protein, minerals, air, water...) we learn that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. We learn respect. We learn the power of gentleness.

10. If you see a hawk attack one of the birds at your backyard feeder, what are your thoughts?

My first reaction to seeing predators at work is a gut wrenching revulsion. My second is an intellectual acceptance of this natural system. My third is to remember that human beings are also predators. My fourth is a sobering resolve to be aware of the human predatory behaviors that endanger my own survival.

11. What in nature really frightens you?

Renegade people. The power of hurricanes and ice storms and floods that destroy individual lives of people, animals, insects with such swiftness. The unseen power of viruses and bacteria that destroys life silently. I prefer a chance to fight for survival -- and the powers of nature are awesome as well as frightening. So I spend my time, like most people, focusing on the beautiful and cutesy and life enhancing side of nature's power. :-)

12. There are hundreds of mysteries that the earth holds close to its heart. What mystery would you love to solve.

The purpose of life. What the role of humans is in the overall scope of things.

13. In this age of digital images, movies, and information, do you think zoos are still necessary?

Are pets necessary? That's the micro-application of a zoo mentality. I have always been ticked that zoos don't educate about the local flora and fauna...only (well...usually, overwhelmingly) the exotics. We are curious creatures, but maybe the mission of zoos need to pressed up against what we really NEED to be educated about...the local realities with which we need to live peaceably. I also have great empathy with the animals...I don't like to be couped up in a little apartment and never allowed to roam freely in my natural habitat. I can imagine the anguish the animals feel being removed from their natural environment, and to me that is not walking gently with the earth.

14. What legacy would you like to pass on to future generations?

A deeper, more powerful respect for the quiet, the gentle, the obvious. And an acceptance of the awesome power of natural cycles of contrast to that quieter, gentler side of existence.

15. What projects are you working on now? (list links to websites, articles, etc)

I write articles about the backyard nature products industry -- the nature stores and makers of conservation products that help us feed and appreciate backyard birds, butterflies, etc. I'm also a consultant to help companies develop new information products and services. A differentiating part of my product and service development services is to suggest sustainable concepts and conservation as part of doing business. My website is Sunshine By Design and I have a free e-mail newsletter called "Idea Packaging" for people interested in design of information products and services.

Feel free to drop by Carolyn's website (address above) and check out her Resources section, packed full of interesting books! Then visit her Backyard Nature Communications site and read her "Nature Notes" and "Backyard Blessings." She certainly presents a lot of ideas to mull over.

Animal Life Host

For more articles about NATURE & KIDS

Young Birders Get Serious About Birding Fun
The Squirrel Family 0 Backyard Nature Safari
Hamsters are rodents and cuddly pets
Kids Learning Links
Buddy's Diner (for the birds)
Bird Profiles for Young Naturalists