Nature As A Refuge

Thank you to everyone who voted on photos over the last month or so. This post includes the project that resulted from your votes. I hope you enjoy it and will pass it along to others who might get some pleasure from it as well.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how important nature is to me as a refuge from the noise and stress of the world. Fresh air, flowers, animals (especially invertebrates!), and open space can all help me relax and temporarily forget about politics, disease, work tasks, and other stressors. For me, of course, there’s something particularly special about visiting prairies, where I can wander around and sink into the interconnected lives of all the various species living there. But even just walking into the yard and appreciating the wildflowers and the various insects visiting them is terrific. During the last year, my access to places where I can get those experiences has helped me tremendously.

Whether in huge prairie landscapes or a tiny prairie close to home -where this photo was taken – exploring and appreciating nature is really important to me. Even simple things, like a leaf beetle feeding on grass pollen, help me focus on something other than the stresses of life.

At the same time, I recognize that nature is not nearly as accessible to most people as it is to me. Some of that is related to physical geography. A huge proportion of the public doesn’t live where nature – or even trees or garden space – is easy to find or get to. Unfortunately, that level of access is also tied to income levels, race, and other factors that reflect injustices in our society.

The other aspect of access to nature, though, has to do with familiarity and comfort level. Regardless of whether or not people live close to gardens, parks, prairies, or other natural settings, a lot of people simply don’t see those places as attractive, interesting, or valuable. That’s a huge problem in a couple ways.

First, of course, people are missing out on the benefits and joys that I, and most of you, receive from spending time in nature. They don’t gain the same stress relief, sense of wonder, or exhilaration of exploration we get from stalking a butterfly on a flower, listening to early morning bird song, or wandering freely through immense open spaces.

The second problem is that the future of conservation relies on the support of the public. Without votes, funding, or simply supportive voices, those of us working to preserve natural areas are fighting a losing battle. That battle, of course, is about more than just protecting pretty places. It also involves sustaining life on this planet, including our own, by protecting the systems that provide fresh air, clean water, food production, and nearly everything else we all rely on. While those benefits are not evenly spread among the people on this planet (see above about racial, income, and other inequities) we all rely on healthy natural systems for survival.

In the coming months, you’ll hear more from me on this theme. I’ve got a couple projects in the works that will share some ideas about how we can all help increase people’s access to, and interest in nature. I care about the topic selfishly – I don’t want my career to be meaningless – but also because I really do think it’s a matter of both human rights and human survival.

HOWEVER, let’s get back to the topic of nature as a respite and refuge. If that’s true for you, I hope the five and half minute video below will give you both peace and pleasure. Please share it with others who might enjoy it. It is intended both as an immediate balm and as a reminder of the resilience and beauty that’s always out there; in prairies, especially, but also more broadly.

Last thing – for those of you reading this during the holidays, I just happened to notice yesterday that my book about my square meter photography project is deeply discounted right now through the University of Iowa Press. If you had been considering buying it but didn’t want to spend $39.99, it is now on sale for only $15! As a reminder, I wrote the book for work, so I don’t get any financial gain from sales. I am, however, very proud of the book and want it to be seen! If you’re interested, click here to link to the order form.

Ok, enough of all that. I hope you enjoy this video, which includes the photos you told me were your favorites from among my 2020 images. Special thanks to my 16-year-old son Daniel for composing and recording the music.

Here’s hoping for a safe, peaceful, and happy new year.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

20 thoughts on “Nature As A Refuge

  1. Happy New Year and thanks for the thought-provoking post and video! I am very lucky to live close to open natural areas and they have certainly helped me with the traumas of the past year. Daily hikes or bike rides have been extremely therapeutic, to say the least. And it is a great cause to make open natural areas accessible to more people. Keep up the wonderful work and thanks again!!

  2. Lovely video. I agree there is nothing more calming, centering and grounding than time in nature. Or the garden. I wish more people knew the value of and had access to that privilege. Your goal for expanding others’ experience of the natural world is timely and much-needed.

  3. Happy New Year Chris!
    What a glorious beginning your video is for a new and better year. The photos chosen were amazing. I could not chose favorites among those wonderful images because each and every one spoke to me as voices from the prairies. All interconnected and vitally important to hear and see as we all attempt to understand this most endangered ecosystem.
    Thank you so very much for what you continue to do. Your son composed a beautiful
    piece to accompany the pictures, great job!
    Kind regards,

  4. Just beautiful! Thank you. I also found peace cycling and hiking the trails this year. Spending time with trees, creeks and wildlife saved my sanity during 2020.

  5. i love these photos. The close-ups are inspiring. There is so much more to this world than most of us see. Thank you for bringing into view the small things–the insects and flower heads, especially.

  6. Thank you for the video!! Absolutely magnificent. As you indicated in your post, nature is our respite from stress. I felt more relaxed within minutes watching it!! We are so lucky to have you in our midst.

  7. You commented public access. It reminded me of an encounter with a New York city resident. Living in such a city, most don’t own a car and seldom ever leave the city limits. Therefore their experience with Nature is only in a city park or weeds growing from a crack in the pavement. They are for the most part absolutely ClueLess about the natural world and sometimes have very inaccurate perceptions of nature and the people living in those areas as well. While going to college, 1960s, at Univ. of Arizona in Tucson back in the 60s I asked a female classmate from New York city to go to a local rodeo on the Papago Indian Reservation nearby, and her reply was SHOCK, “Isn’t dangerous going on the indian reservations?” Of course these people were my high school classmates and then I learned how restricted life is for so many people in the mega cities!

  8. Stunning and welcomed video!

    We are soon launching a local program for ‘anyone’ to find their Nature, Neighbors, Neigjborhoods –and help those interested to grow their own!
    ‘From a Planter to a Prairie, find your style.’

  9. This is such an enjoyable video, Chris, and your son is also a talented musician. Plus thanks for the reminder about your Square Meter book – nice to get it at such a discount!

  10. The photos were masterful. And we loved your son’s music compositions which really added to the tone and mood of the photos.

  11. Chris – thank you so much for your inspiring thoughts and photography. You have blessed me throughout the year. The video is amazing and Daniel’s music is beautiful! I will be sharing the video at our next staff meeting (Greeley CO Natural Areas & Trails Division) as my “Bright Ideas” topic. I can’t think of a better way to start the new year! I hope 2021 will be a successful year for all of us.


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