As someone who grew up in a rural environment, and has now lived in an urban environment for many years, it’s easy to feel disconnected from the landscape and environment around us. And yet, our natural surroundings influence us every day. From small decisions about whether to wear a winter jacket through to how we design our communities, we are part of the environment, even if we don’t always feel it.
The ways we connect to the places around us go beyond the physical aspects of the natural world. Connectedness is about relationships and experiences. Our landscape shapes us. As Wallace Stegner said about the Canadian prairies, in his book Wolf Willow:
“It is a country to breed mystical people, egocentric people, perhaps poetic people. But not humble ones…Puny you may feel there, and vulnerable, but not unnoticed. This is a land to mark the sparrow’s fall.”
Knowing the place you live can be one step towards building a connection to your natural surroundings. Some years ago, I came across the idea of the Big Here, which the author described as 30 questions to increase your awareness of the place you live. I’ve taken some of those questions and added my own (original questions are marked with an asterisk). So, how well do you know the place you live?
What watershed do you live in?
How far due north do you have to travel before you reach a different watershed?
How many people live in your watershed?
Which Indigenous peoples consider the land where you live to be their home?
What is the local Indigenous name for the place you live? What does it mean?
What time is sunrise today? Sunset?*
How many days until the moon is full?*
How many feet or meters above sea level are you?*
How many days is the growing season?*
What is the average annual rainfall?*
After the rain runs off your roof, where does it go?*
What is the predominant wind direction?
From what direction do storms usually come from?*
Where does the pollution in your air come from?*
How many hours of sunshine does your place get each year?
How is your electric power generated?*
Name a mineral that is found in the ground here that is or was economically valuable?*
Is the soil beneath your feet predominately clay, sand, silt or loam?*
Name a geological process or event that shaped the land here?*
Where is the nearest earthquake fault?*
Name a geological feature in your watershed that is important to your community or is considered sacred, either now or in the past?*
If you live on a river, where does it enter the ocean?
Name a spring wildflower that is consistently among the first to bloom*.
Name three plant species that are significant to the local Indigenous peoples.
Name a plant or animal species that is (or was) a traditional food for local Indigenous peoples.
Name three native edible plants that grow here.*
Name five birds that live here.*
Name a species of fish that lives in your local river, lake, or ocean.
Name another place on a different continent that has a similar climate and vegetation to where you live.*
Name three wild species that were not found here 500 years ago.
Name one introduced species that has appeared here in the last 5 years.
What was the dominant vegetation here 10,000 years ago?*
Name one species once found here that is known to have gone extinct?*
Name an Ice Age mammal that lived here.
Where is the nearest wilderness?*
When was the last time a fire burned through the nearest wilderness?*