The Eight Master Lessons of Nature

Living through this episode in history, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. But for the many of us who are abiding with stay-at-home orders in order to preserve our health, there is perhaps a silver lining. We have been given the gift of time this year to witness how spring manifests itself in our own neighborhoods.

I live under the flight path to an airport. With the recent reduction of aircraft traffic, it’s been a revelation to hear the original frequent flyers trill their lovely aubades. Instead of the engine-roar to which I’d become inured, my mornings are filled with a glorious brocade of birdsong. In the evening, the frogs take up their full-throated serenades.

My community has been significantly cut off from these great pleasures over the years because humans, increasingly, have been making so much noise.

And this easily leads me to “The Eight Master Lessons of Nature,” the latest book by Portland author Gary Ferguson, who has written more than two dozen books on nature and science during his career.

Although the publicity for this book calls it “a riveting manifesto,” I experienced it more as a welcoming home. Ferguson’s preface to the book talks about childhood and how we initially took in the world.

“(M)ore than likely you, too, took some of your first steps toward growing up and growing out because nature charmed you into the precious work of unfolding,” he writes.

Ferguson weaves a web of enchantment that stretches from the fungal networks of trees to the architecture of bees; from the wolves of Yellowstone to the elephants of Kenya; from the 20th century work of writer-activists like Jane Jacobs and Rachel Carson; back to the precepts of the 17th century latitudinarians and then way back to the myths of ancient Sumeria.

Ferguson reminds us that we humans have always been included in the warp and weft of ecology.

This holistic approach encourages us to question the binary, us-versus-them approach to thinking about nature and civilization. Everything is interdependent, the author maintains. He coaxes us to notice things contextually, rather than individually, thus “building mental muscle for reintegrating our lives with the world at large.”

These “Master Lessons” point out the value of humility over hubris. They include the essential presence of connections and diversity, the significant effect of reclaiming and reintegrating the overlooked wisdom of the feminine, and, delightfully, the importance of healing our relationship with beauty.

As the best lessons always seem to be, these aren’t prescriptive but rather thought-provoking, even conscience-awakening.

When we come out of our pandemic-mandated hibernation and are faced with rebuilding our economy and systems of education, health delivery and transportation, it would be wonderful if we would envision things through this venerable lens of understanding.

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at

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