Forest Nature Connecting
byJenny Francis
Photo by Ed Kleingeertz

Nature has always played a significant part in my life and psyche. Today I live with my family in an incredibly nurturing environment, adjacent to the forest in Sassafras in a house with a vaulted A roof which feels like a forest chapel. Huge Mountain Ash tower above and Tree Ferns nestle alongside. Whenever I return from the city or suburbs I feel as if I am returning from an alien, stressful world of concrete, traffic, noise and polluted air to a nourishing sanctuary of peace and beauty.

I have always felt the need to live in as natural an environment as possible. I grew up in New Zealand as a child by the beach and on the urban fringe spending as much time as possible at the beach or playing in the surrounding fields and trees. Family picnics and holidays at the beach were standard. Gradually the suburbs encroached on my natural haven. As a child aged ten I wrote an essay on the destructiveness of the bulldozers which tore up the fields, my playground, to make way for housing estates.

As I grew older I experienced a greater diversity of naturescapes. At university I joined the tramping club and my horizons expanded to bush and snow capped peaks. On a working holiday in London I escaped the grime of the city every weekend to commune with nature in the beautiful English countryside. Later I lived in the inner suburbs of Sydney but the unit had a glorious view of Sydney Harbour and we escaped to National Parks or beaches every weekend and were building a boat to live on in nature in perpetuum.

I was at first very anxious about living in the forest at Sassafras as I had never lived far from the beach for long and was a sun worshipper. The sea always engendered feelings of lightness, exhilaration, freedom, cycles and endless possibilities. By contrast I found the bush dark and oppressive, a possible reflection of the Jungian “shadow” which I was at a younger age unwilling to confront. Twenty four years later, having faced the dark through declining physical abilities, loss of a father and relinquishment of my high-flying computer career, I now feel completely at home - almost as merged with the bush as the house is. I still need to seek out the ocean for spiritual nourishment and tranquility but less frequently. I paint and spent an entire year on a forest series trying to capture my feelings about the beauty of the bush. I need to have as many meals as possible outside - a special time is brekkie on the balcony (even in Winter) in silent contemplation of the forest with Roy. I walk all around mostly in the bush and if I don’t walk every day I feel confined, frustrated and stressed.

At first I accepted the gifts of nature unquestioningly and had a rather exploitative relationship with the natural environment. Now I participate in a Friends of group which restores the adjacent forest and I feel that I am giving back in some small way to nature. I often sit in the mud removing weeds, sometimes work outside in the rain and usually return to the house covered in dirt and love it (I really feel a part of nature when I’m covered in mud). I also have a veggie garden and my compost and grey water reuse system all give me satisfaction from trying to live in harmony with nature.

From a very young age I rejected religion as a way of providing meaning in my life and in fact insisted I did not need another frame of reference to provide meaning. About five years ago I realised that meaning in my life derives and has always been based on my nature connection. For me nature reflects all that is awesome in life: the constant cycles of birth, death and rebirth, the amazing web of intricate inteconnections, the beauty and diversity, the intricacies of the underlying workings of natural phenomena. I have however become more and more conscious that wonder derived from rational understanding is not enough to save our Mother Earth. As Berry proposes we need to imbue the natural world with our own modern myths and poetry (as the aborigines did) - only through wholistic reverence for nature can we be inspired to view nature as wholly ourselves and to cease the sensless destruction of the very fabric of our beings.