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Joy in living

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Finding joy in living differs for each person and creature. What joy exists for a standing tree? Does it know the changes of seasons? Is the burst of new growth exhilarating? Does swaying in the wind provide it with the thrill we enjoy watching branches wave on a breezy day?

People often dismiss the experiences of living creatures as simply mechanical responses lacking in joy. I cannot adhere to such thought. I am sure there is more to a deer’s munching on vegetation than simple essential nutrition. They experience good and bad taste and learn what food gives greater pleasure. 

Cat’s ear, sometimes called a false dandelion. Photo by Kristian Peters — Fabelfroh 11:47, 15 September 2006 (UTC), CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons.

It might be that insects are not able to think or make choices as to how they behave. They are restricted by instinct. They have specific modes of activity for selecting food and methods for feeding and reproduction. That does not mean they lack joy in living. Many think other living creatures go about daily life much like a machine functions. It is beyond my comprehension to think other life forms do not find joy in living. 

I have been told that only humans can experience emotion, but I am sure that is not true. When a frog is captured by a snake, a series of responses follow. I have heard a frog scream in the jaws of a garter snake, and it continued to scream inside the belly of the snake until life was gone. That was not just a mechanical response.

My dog, Ody Brook, learned to enjoy cows in farm country. He learned to look for cows whenever we came to open fields. When passing through forests, his behavior calmed and he did not look intently for wildlife like I do when driving. When a cow was seen in a field, he would bark with excitement and he gassed, filling the vehicle with an unpleasant odor. He was full of emotional ecstasy and joy in living. 

What do we find that creates joy in living? I fear people often do not notice and find ecstasy in everyday events provided by nature. During weather reports the forecasters show pictures people send with varied color and form of sunsets and clouds. I hope we each take time to enjoy such experiences in nature that demonstrate a joy in living. 

Searching for joy in human created objects is fine. Many manufactured items and computer program inventions are good and useful. Depending on them for joy is artificial. I hope people find joy without depending on human created things and events. They isolate us from nature.

Observing a bird enter and leave a nest box to feed its young is a joy unparalleled. New flowers that bloom offer ever changing joy to eye, heart, and mind. A plant called Cat’s ear, in the aster plant family, has bright yellow blooms that shine during the day until intense sunlight causes them to close. In cloudy weather or before intense afternoon sun, they illuminated the yard. I take joy in their beauty before they hide their color. 

Insects find their flower’s nectar and joyously partake nourishment when blooms are open. Every living thing has a place, and each has its own kind of joy. As a living thing, I hope you find joy in what is referred to as the “simple things in life.” Too often people search for joy in manufactured objects when it can be found in their immediate surroundings. Nature offers joy and happiness to all who take the time to notice plants, birds, insects, mammals, Earth, and sky. 

Do not depend on artificial human created things as primary for joy in living. They can be a fine supplement but missing the thrills offered by nature will devastate the soul and leave one lonely and isolated. Depression is said to be rampant in society. Whether I am right or wrong, I feel an increasing disconnect from the natural world is partly responsible for why people long for joy and happiness.

It is not just children that need time in nature. We all do. Find joy in living this 4th of July among nature niches. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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