VIP Access for All

Eli Schaffer courtesy of Audubon Center in Greenwich.

By: Eli Schaffer 

In a year that offered many of us the chance to notice our natural world at a slower pace, this autumn presents us with another special opportunity to experience the beauty of nature through new eyes. Everyone deserves access to the Very Important Places near them, and we are all responsible for reducing barriers if we have the power to do so. As the microscopic world of the coronavirus continues to challenge us on unimaginable scale, the disease that was at first a great equalizer in its threat has now settled into all-too-familiar inequities of impact in race, access and class.

At Audubon, we have connected thousands of students, families, and nature lovers to place-based environmental education over the past 77 years, and we have not let the temporary closure of our buildings stop us now. With virtual programs going strong and over 15 miles of trails open to all at our wildlife sanctuaries, people from throughout our region and beyond have maintained access to nature at a time in which that access has the greatest potential to uplift, brighten and heal. Autumn is a time of change, and this year is certainly no exception. As the leaves change colors and the air turns chilly, the feeling of change is hard to avoid.

This year has forced change on so many of us in so many ways. While confronting my own personal health challenges, I saw how fortunate I am to have the uplifting support of family, friends and colleagues, while simultaneously seeing the systems in my body that sustain me as a constant source of uncertainty and fear. I found myself drawn more than ever to the delicate tapestry of balance that our environment puts on display, sometimes with the flourish of spring birdsong, and other times with the subtlety of a babbling stream. My daily walks at the Audubon Center or explorations with our toddler in the backyard took on a new level of meaning – one that millions of people have shared since the world seemingly turned on its head in March, and many of us turned to nature for a sense of joy, community and wonder.

At times of great challenge and uncertainty, the steady beat of a cricket’s love song or the whimsical dance of a falling leaf allow anyone with a moment to spare, with a window to peer through, or even with nothing more than a device screen to be in balance with the world around them. With an appreciation of nature, anyone can be not a businessperson, a student, a parent, an essential worker or even a self, but just a part of our shared environment. In a moment of calm with the birds, the plants, the elements and living things around us, anyone can become a part of a larger world, in balance with the chaos of our lives and the calm march of the seasons. In nature, regardless of your race or wealth or experiences, you can simply be a part of life.

As the season of giving thanks approaches, there is so much to be thankful for – even and especially in a year such as this. While inequity is on full display all around us, a special moment of recognition in nature is something anyone can access. The Very Important Place nearest you is the place you are right now. To access it, all you must do is pause and notice it. This Fall-of-the-Leaves, I hope you take a moment to notice it.