Ways to Connect with Nature from the City Streets

a close up of a pigeon wit a densely packed city in the background

What does it mean, to ‘connect to nature’? The phrase conjures up images of plugging into a socket in a tree or virtually connecting to a wild WiFi network. Like a single action might accomplish the connection.

Many people would say that single action is to go to where nature is. Spending time in outdoor spaces separate from city life—parks, forests, beaches etc—places where you can see the sky, feel the breeze on your skin or smell pine needles; an opposite experience from usual city life. The natural world can seem like a distant universe from your desk at work. Unreachable if you are home bound due to health reasons or lock down or transportation limitations. Concrete and glass cutting you off from nature like a dropped WiFi signal.

What exactly is this nature that we are encouraged to connect to? Is it wilderness? Is it a park? Is it a place, or a feeling? Do you connect by meeting an individual representative from the other-than-human world, like an ancient cedar or unexpected moose, or is it more intangible, like feeling an undercurrent of something unifying? Perhaps connecting to nature isn’t always just a single action.

What if we think of connecting to nature as being when or where we use all our senses and are receptive to encountering living things that are other than human? Where we experience life outside our head? Observing, without deciding first if something is good or bad, but instead just noticing how it moves and interacts with the world around it.

Suddenly, nature can be present in your kitchen—if you actively notice how smells develop as you are cooking, while listening to the sounds of children (wildlife?!) playing/fighting in the next room, and the sounds of the upstairs neighbour having a shower. Life in action. Nature can be present in your bedroom if you listen to the cars on the city streets, and notice the traffic patterns shift and change, feel your chest rise and fall, and smell the aromas of late-night barbecue wafting in on the breeze.

Senses weaving together to create that cable that connects.

Heather hugs a giant tree in the forest

It is not so different from being around a campfire, smelling the wood burning and listening to the kids jumping around (definitely wildlife), while birds chirp their evening songs from high up in the trees. Except for that around the campfire, we are hopefully spending less time focused on what is going on inside our heads than outside them. A campfire, with its moving shapes and colours, can be distracting and mesmerizing that way. Prehistoric TV.

Don’t get me wrong—wild spaces are vitally important and I personally feel more immersively a part of nature when I’m out in them. And the other-than-human world needs those spaces to survive. Wild spaces are another kind of city, complete with a different version of supply chains, transportation arteries, playgrounds, housing, and storage facilities. But for most people to get out into the wilds is a rare opportunity. And so if we can connect to nature wherever we are maybe humans would feel more connected in general, and take better care of what’s around us.

a spider rests in its web made in the long grassBecause if you notice something with more than one of your senses, you are more likely to include the information it shares with you in your decision making, and develop a relationship, a connection, with it. That doesn’t mean that spider has to be your best buddy, but you may appreciate her a little more. It would be a vastly different kind of life to coordinate 8 legs while walking on a web; I have trouble enough with my 2 on solid ground!

Other ways to practice ‘connecting’ with nature:

– Spend a few moments listening to the furthest-away sounds you hear. Then, attune to the closest sounds you hear. After a bit, send your ears out again to find a sound in the middle distance.

– Touch a leaf (maybe not poison ivy or stinging nettle, please). Consider how many shapes of leaves there are in this world. Rather amazing.

– Look for a colour that appeals to you and notice where it shows up, and any patterns that might reveal.

– Smell, deeply, a freshly peeled orange (or some other favourite food), and take a moment to notice how your body responds.

– Imagine life from the perspective of a bird or other animal; how it might feel to have feathers instead of hair, to push off with bird feet and feel the air lift you. Consider what would catch your eye if you had a bird’s needs.

So if connecting with nature is using all your senses in concert and spending time outside your head, it can be all around us, even in man-made parks lit with streetlights, ornighttime shot of rainy city streets from a bike path inside a city apartment. Nature is within us as well as around us; your body is a walking connection if you allow it to be. Kind of like carrying that WiFi with you everywhere you go.