I recently had a chat with Janne Eikeblad, an ecovillage designer, permaculturist, tree hugger and social media influencer with 60.000 followers. I was interested in learning more about the recent trend among mainly young people in Scandinavia: Spending time out in the wild without a focus on hunting or fishing. Traditionally, the Scandinavian hunting culture has been dominating – too dominating – and just going out in the forest to be close to nature has been looked upon as very strange. I am glad to say that this is now changing, and more and more people are starting to understand that nature has a value that can not, and should not, be measured in pounds of potential elk meat and truck loads of timber.
So Janne, to me it seems like there is a greater accept amoung younger people for just spending time out in the wild – not to hunt or harvest, just to be there. Do you agree?
– I have also been pondering this. I assume that as people to a greater extent moved into the cities and developed a more detached relationship to nature, and making a living no longer was based on the surrounding natural resources, people felt an urge for recreational time in nature. Adventures in the wild got increasingly popular, especially for the city dwellers. My parents and grandparents have a passion for the great outdoors and hiking, so I’m far from the first generation being in nature just for the purpose of enjoyment. But what might be different, is the wish to simply be in nature, sensing and experiencing it… without being motivated by exercise, destination or walking the dog.
When I was younger I felt I was one out of few people who actually just wanted to be consciously present with the forest. All the people I met out there were hastily going from one destination to the next, or talked loudly to their mates, they rarely took a look around and often just stared down at the path, or listened to music while running and looked straight ahead of them. Nothing wrong with that, but I experienced a deep joy just by just being in the forest, like a child. To actually appreciate the moment and being mindful of all that is happening. I could stand just off the trail, quite clearly visible, but people never seemed to notice me, and I remember finding it kind of sad that people didn’t look more around at the surroundings.
Though I must say it’is also important to integrate the knowledge about nature and how it’s useful to us, because combining knowledge with awareness truly takes the nature experience to a next level, to more actively engage with the world around us.
The society we live in feels increasingly more stressful, energy draining and grey. Many young people feel rootless and mentally exhausted. Many struggle and feel life to be meaningless. When I in my early teens began in a greater extent to spend time in nature, it also had something to do with a challenging situation with regards to education, family-life, and difficult thoughts. Individual problems seems smaller out in the woods, you get a perspective on things and the capacity for problem solving increases.
As more and more of wild nature gets built down or destroyed, the generations of young people might not take nature for granted like the older ones, and as you know, it’s easier to appreciate something that may not always be there. I sincerely hope, and also believe, that spending time out in nature will mean increasingly more for both youth and all other people.
Do you think this has something to do with spirituality? Do you think people find something in nature that more established belief systems can not offer?
– The belief system that nature is mechanical and soulless have become increasingly prevalent in these past centuries. The church and those in power have done their part in creating a separation between God/the spiritual and nature, and science is built on this foundation. People who’ve seen the world differently than the established have for long been ridiculed and persecuted. But it is now far greater tolerance for other religions and worldviews. More and more people don’t find churches and temples very fulfilling, but experience a more genuine and vibrant connection with themselves and the deeper aspects of life and the Universe out in nature. If one makes space for it, nature provides a unique opportunity for meaningful and direct powerful experiences.
What does nature – and the forest – mean to you?
– How do I even start to describe something like that; it means everything. Nature truly encompasses everything we have and all that we are. Now it may seem like the only thing I care about in life is trees, mountains, plants, mushrooms and animals, and it’s not always so, but most of my interests and occupations is centered around a fascination and love for nature in various ways. The following sections may give a more elaborate answer to this question.
Have you always felt this way?
– No, even though I grew up with plenty of outdoor activities like hiking every weekend, frequent skiing adventures and weeks at our mountain cabin every year, as well as having a huge garden bordering to the forest, I’ve not always felt this way. I had a dark period in my early teens where I shut myself more and more inside and was self-destructive. I felt a massive pain and sadness which seemed unbearable. I ended up with increasingly seeking refuge out in nature. In one way it felt like a huge, liberating adventure, something amazingly exciting! I was old enough to venture into the seemingly endless wilderness alone, and I got used to wander deep into the forest, following small old trails or no trails at all. I was never afraid to get lost. I also started walking barefoot, as well as dressing in more natural colors and shapes, making the experiences feel even more thrilling and enriching.
There is something very special about being alone in nature, the senses become stronger when not distracted by others. To walk in the woods with other people are terrific, but you will never experience the same presence. I found being alone in all the greenery to be very deep, magical and wondrous. I opened myself up and experienced other sides of reality, that I was so much more than a separated small and afraid human being in despair, but that I was part of something infinitely greater. I felt a strong kindness and love out there, I saw myself and the world with new eyes, gained many insights and found that I could tap into some kind of ancient knowledge and wisdom. At that time I had never heard of anyone who experienced something similar, and I had never read books on spirituality or nature religions. But I’ve always had a well-developed imagination, and felt and experienced that there is something more to reality than we might think. Since I had this openness, and had come to a point in life where regular thought patterns seemed to loosen up, I managed to stop and really listen. And in the same way that I myself felt kind of damaged by society around me, I felt so strongly how the same thing had happened with nature, I understood how my pain was a part of something bigger and that I could turn it into something constructive.
I felt that nature had given me a great gift, that I literally got my life back, and I felt an endless gratitude. So I decided to ally myself with nature, and always dedicate my life to fight its cause. First and foremost I wanted to find ways we humans could live more in harmony with the Earth, I began to investigate indigenous and others who pursued a life as close to nature as possible, and I wanted to live in such a manner myself. So I proceeded into studying and learning ancient primitive skills and craftsmanship, to grow my own food, build my own house and the like. The more one learns about nature and those who came before us, the more wondrous it is. But I realized that it would not help the world or nature very much by just moving into the wilderness and be a survivalist. I wanted to inspire others to discover all the beauty of nature, because we just want to protect what we feel a closeness and a love for. And most of all I wanted to inspire others towards a lifestyle closer to nature and teach them what I’ve learned, so that as many people as possible can become more powerful, independent and live a life with more meaning.
Do you think we’re moving towards a greater connection to nature?
– In some aspects it might actually seem so. Firstly I have the impression it’s even quite “trendy” nowadays, there is a strong focus on natural ingredients in food, clothing and products. People have a growing interest in anything organic and ethical. It’s popular to decorate in natural themes, the rustic, forest animals, tree wallpapers and so on. People no longer seems to think you’re strange or mad talking about preservation of nature, to use a bicycle rather than drive, to buy preloved clothes, skip the yearly tropical holidays, make their food from scratch using fresh local produce or even grow your own… Most people even knows what organic means, and surveys show that 80% of people being presented to the idea of ecovillages would like to live in a similar manner. I think most people long for more connection with nature. We’re getting increasingly conscious about how vital nature is for our health and wellbeing. Houses with trees around them and close to green spaces is far more attractive to buy. Many wish they had a farm or a homestead, or that they could live in the countryside (but do not because of a lack of jobs).
I think that eco-communities will be the best solution in this respect. In addition to greatly reduce our ecological footprints you can have a house and a big garden where you can grow things and have some animals and most of what you need, without everything getting too overwhelming (like running a huge farm), and still having a social community around you, workplaces and various of the cultural things you appreciate about the city. For me it feels completely wrong to continue in the direction society is headed, with ever greater contrasts between human civilization and the wild, as on the one hand humanity is shielding itself away from nature, and on the other hand there’s nature which must be protected from our destructive behavior. What if there is a better way to live here which could benefit everyone and the entire planet? Although everyone may not start to live in eco-communities, we must also do what we can to create greener cities and bring nature into the urban jungle, and I think most people are ready for this. It is better to get started before the situation gets too urgent and we would be forced to change our ways of living.
Surely there are also a large proportion of humanity that seems to drift further away from nature, in that more people are living in big cities where nature is miles away, and it’s more common than uncommon for young children to simply stare into a screen than to play outdoors as in the past, so I think there’s a polarization where some of us are becoming increasingly disconnected from nature, while others seek a deeper contact. Although humanity may seem destructive, I believe nevertheless there is some meaning to it all. All tools and knowledge to create a better and greener world is already here, we just have to start taking it in use. And by that I don’t mean that modern technology is necessarily the best solution, we have to combine the best of the old with the best of the new.
Do you think we tend to view nature in an unrealistic/romantic way?
– It is certainly easier to romanticize nature now than in earlier times, as we live more sheltered from the weather, the number of large carnivores is reduced to a minimum and it is generally quite safe exploring nature here in the north , we don’t even have any really poisoinous snakes or insects here. We have all reason to respect nature, for it is truly terrifying, grotesque and powerful. The forces of nature can destroy civilizations in an instant. It is also out there one finds ecstasy, true inspiration and almost unbearable beauty. It is better to have a romantic view of things rather than a cynical and material outlook on everything, or an irrational fear and anxiety, which I feel too many carries. We must learn to know nature, and develop a relationship with it so that we can feel safe. Including a basic knowledge of survival and how things works in the wild.
Some say that those of us who want to preserve the predator- and especially wolf populations, have a “Disney-like” relationship to nature. I say that it is Disney who always portrays the wolves as “evil” animals. What do you think?
– Today it’s registered about 30 wolves in Norway, which I regard as a tragically low population, and the number of predators here is unfortunately steadily decreasing. I think the predator debate is difficult and neither have I thoroughly delved into it. I think we need to develop a different way of living here on the planet which is more about balance, where also predators have a larger space. I personally would not have felt more threatened in the wild if I knew there were occasional wolves, bears and lynxes there. The main problem might have been that we have regarded them as competitors to our food reserves, but firstly, we could all very well consume less meat, and secondly, we must stop breeding animals which are less and less able to survive and defend themselves. We can never have fully good harmonious eco-systems without predators, and it’s anyways not ethically correct to live without them. People often see the wolf as it’s depicted in fairytales, yes! As a purely malicious animal, which lays devious plans and eats people whole. I think it is wrong to domesticate and conquer nature so much that it feels all too safe, the whole society we live in seems incredibly fearful, anxious and over-controlling, with almost zero tolerance for risks in any way, so we must find a balance.
Janne Eikeblad lives in the fjords of the Norwegian west coast, with a main focus on sustainable living and artistic endeavors. She’s a permaculturist, ecovillage designer and mushroom expert. She’s generally deeply interested in all types of crafts, ancient cultures, deep ecology, outdoor adventures, natural building and philosophy. Her blog: www.naviana.blogg.no and instagram: www.instagram.com/voiceofnature
-Bjørn Andreas Bull-Hansen