Connecting People with Nature: a walks leader’s perspective

Brian Everingham, NPA Executive Committee and walks leader

Gilbert White used to take gentle walks around his parish of Selborne and often was distracted by the little things about him. Indeed he was known to be found kneeling on the ground, often for hours, exploring the behaviour of such creatures as the simple earthworm. His book, The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, became an early companion of mine, and an inspiration.

As a child growing up in isolation on a dairy farm surrounded by forest I had ample opportunities to emulate Gilbert White and by the time I arrived in Sydney, found NPA, went walking and became a walks leader, I was more than ready to explore the bushland around and beyond Sydney.

Forty three years and many bush walks later I guess I have led countless numbers on NPA members into the bush, connecting people with nature.

For many of those people the joy of walking was in companionship, in the delights of meeting with like minded people, in sharing a physical activity, in chatting over a warm cup of tea around the camp and in the chance to discuss a particularly difficult traverse, a tricky navigation exercise, a stunning view. They were connecting to each other through their shared experience but they were also connecting with the landscape, noticing the ridges, the gaps through the cliff, the vista beyond.

More and more in recent years I have taken to also sharing with them those little things within that landscape that fascinated me as a child. Everyone seems to see the wombat, the kangaroo, the loud and colourful bird – perhaps – but not everyone sees that snake. Indeed there have been times when I have had to call a party back to show them a Brown Snake by the path they have just passed. Very few see the small spider, the butterfly, the tiny orchid, and when they are shown it, when they can observe it carefully, when they can appreciate it, that’s when they are connecting deeply, becoming one with their landscape and with all that live within it. (Mind you, some do prefer to have a less intimate understanding of the life of a leech!)

Those who have walked with me know that in this era of the digital camera, when film is not expensive, I also record. The images of a walk become the visual backbone of trip reports that become keepsakes. I think they like the memories. I love it when they also record and take pleasure in what they see. That’s my reward- to see that deep connection of people and to watch their love of the natural world grow

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