A slightly different version of this article was published in the Tobago Newsday a few days ago. This is the original piece. You can view the equivalent of a radio edit here.
As birders, we’re often jaded when it comes to birds we’ve grown accustomed to. As human beings, this occurs as well, except not with birds but with other facets of our lives. So much so that a saying has been coined to counteract this very phenomenon: “one man’s trash is another’s treasure”
Why then has it become such second nature to take things for granted? Have we evolved into a wholly superficial species whose lives are comprised of hurried snapshots of our surroundings – surroundings which are quickly fading into oblivion with the increasing popularity of a self-absorbed culture? With the need for instant gratification becoming essentially a baseline requirement for most, facilitated by continuous connectivity to the web of social media, we’re losing one of the most crucial qualities – patience.
The act of taking a “selfie” ranges from a few seconds in a restaurant bathroom to an extensive search for the correct background, it may be a beautiful beach or lookout point – either way the premise is constant – the person in the photo is the absolute most important ingredient. This takes our shallow appreciation of our surroundings to new heights, after all, looking back on archived selfies it may be difficult to determine whether that photo from two years ago was taken at Flagstaff Hill or Mount Dillon. It may seem like an absurd argument, but something that seems so innocuous has far-reaching consequences in terms of our subconscious psychology.
Adjusting the focal point of a photo of a jaw-dropping vista from the landscape itself to the person in front of it aids in further distancing oneself from the environment, albeit subconsciously. Simultaneously, a new, welcoming, virtual environment beckons. Use that data package to post the freshly taken picture immediately, but not before some careful minutes are spent in editing, smoothing skin, lightening the odd blemish here and there, taking care to ensure that we are as beautiful as we feel so that our virtual community can firmly place that stamp of validation – most often in the form of likes.
All the while we’re carefully hashtagging our Instagram post, the sun is setting, the breeze picks up ever so gently and brings in a mixed flock of Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Pelicans just overhead, close enough to pick out droplets of water on the pelicans’ full bellies. A Red-rumped Agouti scurries across the road, followed by her diminutive offspring at full stretch trying to keep up. Life is going on. And we’re not only missing it as it unfolds, we’re also gradually losing the understanding and appreciation of its pure grandeur.
If you’re wondering what grandeur lies in a sight that has been seen multiple times, you definitely need to look further. Nature is infinite in her design, her character is boundless. And she is in a constant state of flux. The same beach today looks different from yesterday, and will further change tomorrow.
What does this mean though? Why all these esoteric ramblings? Is there any relevance to our lives today? Is the writer pushing for an outdated life? This is the age of information, the age of high-speed, free-flowing bits and bytes, right?
Too many of us are already lost in cyberspace, putting more and more distance between our actual existence and our virtual existence. While theoretically both planes are not mutually exclusive, humans are not particularly well-known for the ability to maintain any form of balance. Social media is a powerful tool – this article will be read by many via some form of social media – but much care must be taken to continue to cultivate a connection that doesn’t depend on an internet service provider.
Like it or not, we are all part of nature. We are not made of concrete, glass or steel, but matter that is completely organic. A link to what we all are a part of is not only recommended, but necessary. What do we stand to lose? Some followers? Religions preach about a heaven that’s described as a pristine Earth. Children are welcomed into the world as babies, their cribs decorated with images of zebras, dolphins, birds and butterflies. Reproductive organs of plants are plucked from the earth, lashed together, wrapped in plastic and presented in the name of “love”, which now unfortunately means nothing if this offering isn’t plastered on the walls of facebook.
Why do we pray for something this peaceful yet spend our lives relegating it to a state of lore?
Starting points should always be the most accessible, and luckily for us, nature is forgiving and welcoming. The next time a group of Rufous-vented Chachalacas or Smooth-billed Anis enters your surroundings, take a moment to look and listen. We only know a small part of their lives, and we can only know more if they let us. Both of these species are gregarious, communicating constantly with one another using an extensive repertoire of soft chirps and clucks usually inaudible from distance.
As a people, we need to move out of being empowered in ignorance to a state of being humbled by it. Our commonly seen species and vistas are no less magnificent and deserving of respect than rarities or so-called once in a lifetime experiences. It is simply a matter of perspective. The overwhelming majority of the seven billion people on this planet will never take a single step on the pink sand of Lover’s Bay, let alone take a single breath of fresh mountain air in the early morning within the rainforest at Main Ridge. Our sights and sounds are completely unique, and so are we. With the understanding that wilderness is ever-changing, an acceptance of every single experience being once in a lifetime should follow.