Rediscovering our connection to nature

A multimedia exhibit by Daniel Sroka, July 2021

Imagine a very young child, playing with a leaf. The child picks the leaf off the ground, and holds it in their hands. They feel the crinkly edges. They pinch the stem and twirl it between their fingers. And when finished, they toss the leaf into the air and watch it drift to the ground. It's a great game, and they play it all the time.

But one day, while picking up a leaf, they sense something is different. They feel the crinkly edges again. They twirl it between their fingers once more. But this time, before they throw the leaf into the air, they stop — and look up at the trees. At that moment, something clicks into place. They look down at that leaf again, but now instead of a simple toy, they see something more — something alive. This is the day they discover nature.

For the first time, the child realizes that that tiny leaf is actually part of a much bigger world. Gradually, they began to see connections. How the leaf came from the tree, growing from the ground. How the sun and the rain nourish that tree, as well the other plants. How those plants nourish the animals. And even, to their surprise, themselves. Their small world quietly opens up. Everywhere they look, from their fingertips to the farthest distance, is now filled with living things. Everything they see is now somehow connected.

As an artist, I'm curious about how we first discovered nature as children. I try to understand how that discovery continues to influence us, shape our thoughts, and impact the the way we relate to nature as adults. I make art that tries to recreate what that original moment of awareness might have felt like, when we suddenly saw the everyday in a new light.

I use abstract photography to transform the most common and familiar parts of nature — leaves, flowers, seeds, bark — into something new and unexpected. I want to spark a connection with nature that is both recognition and inspiration — we see a leaf, but we also see something more. These ideas collaborate to forge new connections in our minds. They help us better understand the relationship between our selves and the natural world.

Of course, we can only imagine what it might have felt like to "discover" nature as children. Whatever intense feeling we might have had then has long since faded into a hazy memory. As adults we now tend to see nature in more practical terms. Nature is a resource we can tap into, whether for our physical needs or when we just need a moment of calm, away from our busy lives.

Normally, there’s nothing wrong with thinking like this. But unfortunately, things are no longer normal. With the threat of climate change growing, this way of thinking no longer works. When we mainly see nature as a resource, we are separating ourselves from the natural world. We create a division that diminishes our relationship with nature, and can make us less invested in its health and survival.

Therefore, I believe that to address the climate crisis, we first need to change this mindset. We need to see beyond what nature can provide for us, and forge a more personal connection to it. I believe we can do this by recapturing that sense of discovery we first experienced as children. But this time, tempering that intense awareness with the knowledge and insights we have gained as adults. Because nature has to be more than just beautiful or awe-inspiring — it has to have a real, living significance to our daily lives.

By combining these perspectives, we can teach ourselves to look more deeply at our relationship with nature. We can learn to see past our assumptions, and discover what nature really means to us. This renewed connection with nature can become the groundwork for any future action we might take. It reminds us not only what we are hoping to protect, it also helps us understand why.