Crow’s Nest: On humility

January 13, 2023

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager.

Early morning landscape of trees, meadow, and fog at Crow's Nest Preserve

Photo: Daniel Barringer

We like to think of ourselves as experts, and that we’re pretty good at what we do. But I am finding that the longer I work in this field, the more I realize that the more I know, the more I know that I don’t know. I think the same attitude is reflected by my colleagues at Natural Lands; we’re constantly striving to learn, to be more thoughtful, to be open-minded to new views and opportunities.

A grove of trees shrouded in fog at Crow's Nest Preserve

Photo: Daniel Barringer

To employ a visual metaphor, we recognize that our experiences are shaped by lenses that affect how we interpret our perceptions. That we have selective blind spots. We must work hard to listen and learn.

And that’s just the world of human understanding. In the introduction to Ed Yong’s book, An Immense World, he describes the concept of Umwelt, a term defined by Jakob von Uexküll in 1909: the perceptual world that each animal can experience. Yong notes that the world humans experience seems all-encompassing: “It is all we know, and so we easily mistake it for all there is to know.” For example, he adds: “We are not privy to the magnetic fields that robins and sea turtles detect.” (6).

Hilltop view looking across farm field to forested valley shrouded in fog at Crow's Nest Preserve

Photo: Daniel Barringer

If anything, the natural world is more complicated than any of us think, stranger than fiction, and wondrous. Last year I listened to the audiobook by Susan Simard: Finding the Mother Tree. Dr. Simard’s research suggests that the interactions between plants and fungi goes well beyond nutrient-sharing to communication—a network between trees that allows for cooperation.

As I accomplish new tasks, some become muscle memory. Others constantly challenge. I still feel like I have as much to learn now as I did when I started my career. That makes every day interesting.