Growing up, I spent most of my childhood either with my nose in a book or out in nature. The woods and scrub fields around our Connecticut home were a refuge and endless source of wonder. The birds were my friends and I felt perfectly safe surrounded by trees, rocks, animals, and birds. By the time I went back to visit as an adult, the wild places had been destroyed to make way for more and more housing, so I feel that I was quite lucky to have been able to experience this as a child.
We were taught in so many ways to understand and love nature. From bird-watching to collecting shells on the beach, our mother took us on all kinds of expeditions that filled our curious minds and eager hearts. Looking back now, I see that she made little naturalists of us, and it laid the foundation for an enduring love of the wild places of the world.
I also remember stopping the car to pick up trash along the roadside. In the 50’s and 60’s the prevalence of trash in public spaces wasn’t quite as bad as it is now, but the lesson was clear, ‘It doesn’t belong there.’
These lessons were so deeply engrained upon my being that, when my own children were growing up, I found it perfectly natural to pass this love of and respect for nature on. And, to my delight, my grandchildren have been brought up the same way and love being out in nature. When my 11-year-old granddaughter sees an exhausted bumblebee on the ground, she tenderly picks it up and gives it water and a safe spot to recover. As long as there are children like this, passing on the love to future generations, I won’t despair.
When I originally picked up my camera again after retirement, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to share photos of my love of nature. I was sure that, by showing everyone how beautiful wild nature is, I would be able to infect others with my reverence of the wild spaces on our beautiful planet.
But social media is a two-edged sword, and I soon found out that all the beautiful and inspiring images that nature photographers are sharing have triggered craving instead of reverence. ‘I want that too!’ is the emotion that causes a massive descent upon these locations, causing harm and even destruction. Not to mention the way birds and wildlife are often harmed by the eagerness of photographers and nature-tourists to ‘get their shot.’
When Nature First was founded on Earth Day 2019, I immediately resonated with their goals and principles, signed up as a member, and eventually became an active advocate for responsible nature photography. I’m proud of the way our organization has grown and spread around the world, drawing in members from more than 65 different countries committed to passing on our love of and respect for nature. Please explore our website and follow us on social media. And even if you aren’t a nature photographer, show your love of nature by respecting it and teaching others to respect it as well.
Sjuul van Bakel