So much of depression can be traced back to disconnection, and that is the heart of The Urban Bestiary. Living in cities (and suburbs), we are disconnected from natural rhythms and from the animals and plants around us. We know they are there, but we don’t really pay attention to them, except as either cute diversions (squirrels in my yard!) or irritations (squirrels running in front of my bike). This does both parties a disservice.
No matter where you live, nature is right outside your door. It may be less wild than you imagine, but it’s there. You have sun, wind, and rain. I guarantee that you have ants, spiders, and flies. You also have sparrows and squirrels and probably hawks and owls, too. Just because they’ve urbanized with us doesn’t mean they aren’t wild.
Slowing down to pay attention to the other citizens of our cities can allow us to more fully inhabit our humanity. Forging a connection with other-than-human beings can be immensely healing.
What can you see?
If you’re feeling down today, I challenge you to spend at least five minutes watching animals. Position yourself near a window, or take a quick walk to or from lunch, and just keep your eyes peeled.
It’s still winter, so you may not get the variety of critters you’ll see in a couple of months, but the squirrels and the sparrows are out and about in Boston. I’ve been watching three little brown sparrows swooping between the houses and occasionally stopping to rest on my naked grape vine and bare branched pear trees. They preen and puff their feathers for a minute, then take off again, attending to whatever urgent avian business they have.
Slow it down.
Contrary to the way we live, human beings are not actually designed to function as separate from the world, fitting our lives into the confines of a clock, moving from place to place separated from the elements, from the trees, and from the creatures who live along side us. In many ways it is convenient, and even necessary at times (I’m pretty sure I could not survive in New England without central heating), but it’s a element of separation to which our minds, hearts, and souls can never fully adapt. And that’s a good thing.
By connecting to nature, we connect to a part of ourselves that is frequently hidden away. One side effect of that disconnection can be depression.
There is something to be said for making our lives both slower and smaller: focusing on the moments, rather than the summits we hope to someday climb; living within the sphere of our home, rather than farming our minds out to the virtual world of the internet. Not all the time, but sometimes.
If any of these ideas appeal to you (or if you’re just curious about the animals who can survive in urbanity), then I highly recommend checking out The Urban Bestiary.