Sharon Butala Shares her Favourite Places in Nature
Sharon Butala is an award-winning and best-selling author, conservationist and founding member of Women for Nature. Sharon and her husband Peter donated their ranch and prairie grasslands to create The Old Man On His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area which is a 13,000-acre nature preserve found in Saskatchewan. Today she shares with us her thoughts on the spiritual and emotional connection that humans have with nature and wildlands.
My favourite spots in nature tend to be in the past because of the death of my husband and the sale of the land, but in the days when I had thousands of acres to roam over by myself, more than thirty years of days of roaming, I learned to love a particular spot in a particular field. In a deep, narrow place between two low hills the water would collect and as long as Peter kept the cattle out (which he did for twenty years) plants would grow in that spot that grew nowhere else on any of the land. They were, of course, prairie plants, but mostly ones that grew only in a much wetter spots than we were used to having, one of them being a tall plant reminiscent of a wild strawberry but that was actually a type of cinquefoil more used to damp ground. I knew all the others, too, but sometimes I think in my seven years away from that field, that when I left I wiped my brain clean of particularities as, in the face of their loss, too painful to remember. The other day my son showed me a photo he’d taken of nests of crocuses growing in an unplowed, ungrazed wild prairie field and something visceral grabbed me and I had to look away. In such instances, I see, but I also smell and feel, am immersed again in the ambience of such a field – anywhere.
To know that particular field is still there matters very much to me, but after thirty-three years of walking in it I know that what was told me when I left is true: The prairie lives inside me or, I have “internalized it” and being in it isn’t as important to me as it once was, nor do I need as those who didn’t have the opportunity I had to be in it, need it. So, I remain, even prairie-less these days, one of the fortunate few who carries the prairie everywhere. It is solace, but a small one compared to being able to walk out in the field whenever the desire stirs me.
There is something more though, something bigger. Once you get to be very familiar with a wild place, get to know every nook and cranny of it, once you can walk yourself right out of your own brain with its endless circling ruminations, questioning and responses, in such a place – a field, a forest, a river valley, a mountain or a hill – you walk yourself into another kind of consciousness. Of course, this means you can’t have a purpose: you can’t be reading, or on a scientific quest, or immersed in a hobby, or doing a sport. Can you be praying? I would say not in a formal way but surely all such walking is a form of spiritual communion. You have to let your active brain go and just be. Then, nature comes to you, rather than the other way around.
I support attempts to save wild places because I know from personal experience that isn’t even science-based how important such places are to the saving and the blossoming of our humanity. They aren’t just pretty, or even necessarily pretty, but spirit resides in them – whatever that means – and humans are a spiritual species whether they want to be or not, and cannot exist without opportunities to connect. Wild lands are the places where this can happen.