A first-hand experience of reawakening amid nature
Last week I had the opportunity to be a bird leader for the EEC (Environmental Education Centre) bird camp organised with the Green World Foundation. The youth bird camp lasted only three days and two nights, but for me it was an unforgettable experience. It made me feel very energised and excited about being a bird leader for the first time.
Early in the morning we started birding around the hotel where we stayed. The kids seemed to be a little chaotic, this made me somewhat concerned about my ability to handle the birding activity with small children.
In the afternoon, we planned to go to Ban Pak Phli, which is located in Tha Ruea subdistrict, Pak Phli district in Nakhon Nayok province. It is about 60 kilometres from Khao Yai National Park to the south. It is also known as a migration spot for The Black-eared Kite that migrates from Siberia around November to March. Although this is not the migration season, it is a field and wetland where resident birds can be found and a very interesting ecosystem as well. I was quite concerned at first whether we would be able to go through the activity well or not, but it turned out to be an afternoon filled with fond memories of being among the next generation who were learning many essential skills to know and love nature.
That afternoon made me realise how important the youth are for the climate conservation movement. As they started to learn to be comfortable in the open air, they slowly looked over the vast fields and saw the wonders of the area. Their gaze, gestures, and behaviour made me irresistibly excited. Each of them had a different personality, uniqueness and rhythm. There was Petch, a young boy who is always interested and excited when he sees birds and always has a question; Perth, a bird photographer of the team; Pun and Praow; and Mark, the youngest one of our group, who was quick-witted and brought laughter to our team throughout the day.
The excitement was rising as the afternoon sun reminded us that the day would end soon. More and more, the children kept asking for detailed explanations about each bird. I tried to explain to them by showing them concrete examples right in front of us. While I was explaining the different styles of weaving between Asian Golden Weaver and Baya Weaver, there was a constant sound of excitement from the gang. To my surprise, they started to develop the skill to quickly and accurately identify the bird species themselves.
By the end of the day, there was a small flock of Little Cormorant flying 10 each, 20 each, I added that sometimes they might fly back to their nests in flocks of 100. Suddenly, the Little Cormorant started to gradually increase to 100, flying over and passing us. The children were extremely excited to see such a spectacular sight. Even I was amazed with how unexpected and unpredictable life and all living beings can be. The children’s energy and excitement reminded me so much of myself on the day that I first realised and understood the thrill of the natural world.
Back then, it did not start from an immediate interest in nature. Actually it began with my mixed emotions of being lost, dazed and confused about life in general. My head was filled with questions that seemingly no one could answer. Fortunately, I got a chance to join the Nature Connection workshop led by the renowned naturalist, Saranarat Kanjanavanit. The workshop aimed to help us understand and communicate with nature. The venue was at NuNiiNoi Wetland located at Chiang Dao sub-district in Chiang Mai province. At the five-day workshop we had to relearn and practice how to walk, look, observe, listen deeply, and even taste our surroundings. We had to dare ourselves to open up and sharpen our senses to be more vulnerable and receptive.
That experience with Saranarat was like opening the door to the wonderful world of nature for me. I had a chance to enjoy observing lichens (the plantlike organism made up of an algae or cyanobacterium and a fungus growing in symbiotic association) just like when I was a little kid. I had a chance to explore the creek nearby with all its living organisms, after a long absence from the activity. Most importantly, I also had a chance to spend time with myself surrounded by other friends who had been through this exact same experience. It gradually guided me to find the answers to my unending questions. I slowly found the answers. The feeling of loss, anxiety, daze and confusion started to gradually dissipate and finally vanished.
The experience I gained from that Nature Connection workshop not only provided me with an answer, or short-term skills, but also on the long-term skills residing inside me up until now. Those skills included approaching living animals slowly and paying respect to all living creatures, the skill of being in some natural setting for the whole day without any feeling of boredom since we knew that there always is something we could observe, look at, and deeply feel the wonder of nature.
After I got back from the workshop, I became clearer about my purpose. I again fell in love with birding and observing the living things around me. There were times during my early teens that I refused natural perception. I just kept myself in a car while waiting for other family members to go birding. At that time, I felt I was indifferent and lacked any enthusiasm towards nature and, perhaps, the world itself. When I look back, it is a frightening and scary feeling for me. I started to lose appreciation for all that beauty. I started to ignore nature’s value and the things without which we would not be able to exist as well.
I was so fortunate to regain those magic feelings. I returned to do many activities, some were new activities that I had never experienced before. My life has become a journey of new and endless discoveries. I have become a totally new person. I do really feel that when one feels lost, one can find the answer, by spending more time observing those living things around us. They would provide us with both answers and some new questions at the same time.
Every day will become a new day, just like that morning when I spotted the Common Flameback (Dinopium Javanese) which was a common resident. I spent time observing it until it flew out. The moments when it used its beak to peck the tree to build a nest or forage for food filled me with joy. Watching the bird climbing the tree in order to peck on different spots made me understand about its way of life. Many times there was only one tree but it would be full of various birds for us to fully observe until they left. As the birds eventually flew away, we could still spend more time with that tree by learning more about their plants. This kind of experience transforms our living moments to be a bit of a haiku.
Bringing yourself to be in nature and observe these wonderful living things leads us towards many open doors that would provide an answer we would never expect.
If we need the young generation to be interested in protecting and appreciating the invaluable nature, we need to take them outdoors. That short moment of excitement in nature will be the beginning for them to see, appreciate, know, love, feel love, and slowly lead to the feeling of yearning to protect nature as much as they can. All of this is not for the feeling of being a master or ownership of nature, but for accepting ourselves as a small part of the universe. I believe in that we would find our purpose and our reason for living as well.
By Ploytanya Yindeerak Panitchpakdi
Special to The Nation