On Seeing (Or Why The Planthunter Exists)

Winter is winding up and the magnolias are flowering, spectacular as usual, against a backdrop of bare branches. Soon the blooms will fall and bright green leaves will take their place. The jasmine, hiding in the shadows until a few days ago, has just taken centre stage, its heady scent carrying the whispers of a warmer world on the breeze.

I could go on, and on, and on. This world of beauty and change, life and death, is just my walk to work. Every day if I’m present and open to the world around me, I have the opportunity to see new stories and uncover new lessons from the life existing in front yards, tumbling over back fences, and growing in cracks in the footpath. My desire is to always choose to see.

The Planthunter is an extension of this desire. Behind the stories, the beauty, and the occasional silliness, my dream for The Planthunter is to engender a change in the way the natural world is seen and engaged with.

The act of seeing is incredibly simple. But its effects can be enormously important. True seeing slows us down, opens us up and brings perspective. It takes us out of our heads and into ourselves, bringing us closer to the truth of who we are and where we are.

The Planthunter is a gentle prompt, a nudge, a seductive beckoning to truly see the world, not just the human world, and not from the perspective of ‘me me me’, but the world in its entirety and absolute interconnectedness. The late poet and gardener Stanly Kunitz sums up the absolute importance of this connection; ‘The universe is a continuous web, touch it at any point and the whole web quivers’ (The Wild Braid, Stanley Kunitz, 2007).

If this is the case, and I propose it is, I think we need to ask ourselves some questions, like; Why is there such little value placed on nature when we are ourselves nature? Why are we clearing bushland for coalmines? Why are we eating food created in factories, not soil? Why are western societies increasingly unhappy, obese, anxious, and unhealthy? Have we forgotten where our food, medicine, shelter, clothing, and joy comes from? Our blindness is killing us.

We humans think we’re the most important things since the dinosaurs, but lets get one thing straight: We’re the most dangerous creatures on the planet but we’re certainly not the safest.

We’re at the mercy of the plants, the fungus, the beetles, the trees, the bees. They don’t need us, but holy hell we need them. No insects to pollinate crops, no food. No trees to transform carbon dioxide into oxygen, no air. No plants, no life. That’s that.

According to plant neurobiologist Stefano Mancuso, plants comprise of over 90% of the earths biomass, yet we only know approximately 10-50% of the plant species on earth. No more. Every day, plants we didn’t know existed are ceasing to exist. Every day we neglect to see the natural world, we also get closer to ceasing to exist.

Disconnecting ourselves from the world around us is an incredibly dangerous path for us to be taking. When we stop seeing, we stop valuing, and when we stop valuing, we allow atrocious things to happen without fully understanding their implications on this web that is all existence. So, what do we do then? How do we go about changing the way we interact with the life surrounding us – the plants, trees, people, animals and microbes – in a positive manner?

Whilst it may sound overly simplified, connecting with nature on a personal level is an incredibly powerful tool to do just this. There are hundreds of studies supporting this argument. Researchers at Carleton University in Ottowa have found that regular walks in natural areas make people happier and more likely to behave in an environmentally responsible manner, whilst Richard Louv has written numerous books and papers on the importance of children and adults engaging with nature (the Children and Nature Network, founded by Louv, has a huge list of studies exploring this topic).

In his book The Nature Principle Louv suggests; “…reconnecting to nature is one key to growing a larger environmental movement. That reconnection is visceral and immediately useful to many people’s lives. Encouraging personal reconnection does not mean less engagement with global environmental issues; it means more. To act, most of us need motivation beyond despair.”

Louv and I are on the same page. My approach with The Planthunter is domestic. It’s not about environmental guilt, it’s not about nature as a concept. It’s about life. With plants. It’s on the street, it’s in our backyards, it’s in our offices. It’s about beauty, truth, celebration, and dirt.

The Planthunter is an invitation to see and connect with the rich, messy, growing, decaying, evolving world around us.

My One Big Dream is that the stories shared, conversations started, and beauty celebrated on The Planthunter will encourage a deeper understanding and appreciation of the natural world, the interconnectedness of all life, and a questioning of current ideas about the value of nature.

On a personal level, my desires are simple. I want to live a truthful life – one connected to the people and the landscape around me. I desire fullness and emptiness, compassion and respect. For all. Nature is my muse, plants are my medium, and whilst it’s not always easy, I desire to always choose to see.