Scott Shalaway: Looking back to 9/11; nature is the place to be


Ten years ago, in the aftermath of 9/11, I wrote about nature’s September highlights. I touched on fall colors, shorter days, cooler nights, and the migration of birds and monarch butterflies.

I concluded, “When I find myself struggling for sanity in an insane world, I turn to the outdoors. A crisp, clear September day is often the ideal prescription for a world gone mad.”

Looking back

Many readers agreed, and the response was heartfelt and immediate. Here are excerpts from a few of the notes I received.

“During the recent tragedies, I found myself heading outdoors with the dogs more frequently. I have always been an avid hunter, spending most of my free time in the wilderness, yet this past week I have been outdoors even more. There is an unsurpassed tranquility there — peace and quiet in a world so cruel and fast.”

“I closed my eyes and imagined the events and creatures you described. Thanks for a column that let me relax and reminded me of the wonders of nature.”

“Yesterday, while working in the shop, I found myself taking more breaks than usual. It was nice to get out and visit those creatures that don’t have a clue about the ugly world we sometimes live in. I wonder how long it will be before I can look at an airplane in flight without thinking of Tuesday.”

“We want to commend you on the comforting and insightful column that you wrote last week after our world came crashing down. We have suggested it as required reading to friends and relatives…”

Nature is therapeutic

As these notes piled up, I learned that even under the most difficult circumstances, the love of nature is therapeutic. It soothes the soul.

I think everyone has a psychic need to connect with nature. It can occur in the backyard, on a park bench, in a wilderness area, or in the mind’s eye. And even those who seem to turn a blind eye to nature are not immune to her spell.

I’ve heard from many people who have spent a lifetime too consumed by work or family to even notice the natural world. Then one day serendipity steps in. They see a mature bald eagle glide across a river at eye level. Or on a clear moonless night they step outside during a meteor shower and see it “rainin’ fire in the sky” (John Denver’s words).

Hooked on hummingbirds

It just takes such a spark at the right time and place. Mine came when I was 12 delivering newspapers on a rural route. One of my customers had a beautiful flower garden, and every week during the summer, I’d see a tiny hummingbird sipping nectar from her flowers. I was hooked for life.

In the days after 9/11, I experienced another spark. For a few days, air traffic came to a halt. The world was peaceful and quiet. As I roamed through fields and forests, I heard only insects, birds, and the breeze rustling through the leaves. The absence of man-made sounds was remarkable.

Despite the horror of that terrible day, I felt better. I felt rejuvenated. The appreciation of nature, whether it’s watching birds, gardening, fishing, or hiking, has intrinsic psychic value. It helps ensure our sanity.

Conservation organizations

I think it’s why so many of us join and support conservation organizations. We live busy, chaotic lives, but supporting a local land conservancy or wildlife organization let’s us make a difference.

Twenty or thirty dollars each year may not seem like much, but when combined with the support of a few hundred thousand others, it adds up. We may never use or see the lands we help preserve, but we feel good because we know it’s there.

The tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, is an unpleasant memory, but it will never be forgotten. And it taught me an important lesson. The value of nature goes far beyond the aesthetics and economics of appreciation and consumption. It also carries a priceless intrinsic value that guarantees our humanity.

(Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, RD 5, Cameron, WV 26033 or via e-mail at his website,



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Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at or contact him directly at or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.



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