We creatures of the northern hemisphere have for so many years needed to find ways to cope with the dark, short days of the winter solstice. Wildlife has many ways to adapt to the dark and cold- get away from it, sleep through it, or grow extra fur and feathers and deal with it. We humans seem to shun those obvious physical adaptations and instead use our large brains to adapt our behavior, creating instead warm clothing, furnaces, decorations, and hot toddies to get us through the winter.
The decorations are interesting, as it seems that after a few months of bare trees we somehow long for greenery and color. We bring trees and branches to decorate our homes inside and out and have animals to keep us company. Although they are a pale reflection of the complexities of nature outdoors, they still connect us to that world. I really believe that we benefit from close contact with nature and natural places, and in the main draw strength and comfort from them.
As much as it benefits us to profit from nature, there are so many benefits that are hard to measure in terms of financial gain. We are all better off because of the nature of our Lakeshore and because we have set aside some of those places for people to enjoy and learn. How many places have two preserves and a museum, the Rahr School Forest, Woodland Dunes, and the Wisconsin Maritime Museum? They reside along the shore of one of the most remarkable Great Lakes in the world, are staffed with outstanding educators, and host many thousands of school children who learn about the science behind the life around us. Its an incredible credit to our community that such education is valued and these places and their programs are sustained. Our living ecosystems, including ourselves, will be sustained by the children who learn about them in places like these.
Traditionally we give from our surplus this time of year- gifts to the ones we love and other acquaintances, and to organizations that help those who need it. Compassion and generosity help hold our families and society together. Animals sometimes do the same thing- pair bonds are strengthened when animals groom, share food and feed each other, share parental duties, or huddle together for warmth.
Perhaps the process of giving back to nature by restoring land or feeding birds strengthens our bonds to it. Whatever bonds you are striving to strengthen, here’s hoping for the best for all this Christmas and holiday season.