Nature Notes: Thoughts from the TreeSong Community

Featuring Monica Vilhauer, Ph.D.


In our culture there is a long-standing pressure to see nature – and all the living beings, landscapes, and formations that make up nature – as a “thing” to examine and predict, or an “object” to analyze.  The assumption is that we are the active, knowing subjects and that nature is the passive object to be known.  Nature is assumed to have no intelligence of its own.  In a related narrative, nature is often depicted as simply a resource for us to use and use up according to our needs and desires, without any acknowledgment that it might have its own intrinsic value or its own interests.  Nature has even been regarded as a vast field of “matter,” whose parts interact like a great machine that we can take apart, manipulate, and dominate without causing it any pain or harm.  This lens through which we have long approached nature is, no doubt, at the heart of our tendency to abuse it, neglect it, or simply remain apathetic toward it.


What might it mean to re-think what nature is? What new lens for seeing nature might we cultivate? What new relationships might we forge with nature? Might there be a way to listen to what nature has to tell us?  Might we learn something about how to live by watching the ways that plants, animals, and different eco-systems interact? Might it be possible to forge a friendship with nature in which we come to understand not only what other living beings’ interests are, but also how to care for them?


These philosophical questions about nature, I’ve come to believe, cannot be answered in a classroom or with a string of power-point presentations at a conference.  We must approach these questions by engaging the natural world, and by spending time with, observing, and being “present” with the living beings that we have become far too good at ignoring.  This, to me, is the great value of a place like TreeSong.  It is a way in.  It is the doorstep into an experience that has become foreign to us, but to which our own minds and bodies remain intimately connected somewhere deep in the memory and flesh of our species. It is a place to notice the projects of bushy-tailed squirrels, peeking in the pockets of every maple propeller that flies down to the river bank.  It is a place to pay attention to the repeating patterns of the moss tufts blanketing every tree root.  It is a place to slow down and notice the rhythms of your own breath, mimicking the rhythms of the rushing water around the smooth rocks, mimicking the knocking of a woodpecker searching for its lunch. You know it as soon as you arrive:  TreeSong is a place for you to rediscover what life in its broad sense is all about.  It is a place to rediscover yourself as a natural being.


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Monica is offering a retreat on July 23-24, Philosophy of Nature: A 25-Hour Retreat for Men and Women, as well as a wonderful mosaic workshop, Nature Inspired Mosaics, on August 6th and 13th. Learn more about these offerings by clicking on the class name.


Monica Vilhauer, Ph.D.

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Philosophy Professor, Artist and Lover of Nature

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