It’s the salamander burrowed under a decomposing log in the gum pond. It’s the wild turkey that just landed on a water oak bough. It’s the barred owl scanning for prey from a sycamore limb. It’s the white-tailed deer browsing beneath the white oak canopy.
It’s that essential part of nature that gives the forest body spiritual worth. One whose absence creates an inexplicable void. It’s the noumenon.
Immanual Kant coined the term to refer to a concept from philosophy meaning the thing-in-itself, inferred reality beyond the sensory world (phenomenon) to which we are limited. American ecologist, forester, and environmentalist Aldo Leopold reiterated its application to the natural world in his Sand County Almanac.
“The physics of beauty is one department of natural science still in the Dark Ages. Not even the manipulators of bent space have tried to solve its equations. Everybody knows…that the autumn landscape in the north woods is the land, plus a red maple, plus a ruffed grouse. In terms of conventional physics, the grouse represents only a millionth of either the mass or the energy of an acre. Yet subtract the grouse and the whole thing is dead.”
Everybody knows that the winter landscape in the Southeastern woods is the land, plus a white oak, plus a white-tailed deer. Depending on what part of the South you’re in, you could substitute with a turkey and a red oak. Or a pileated woodpecker and a loblolly pine.
Try to imagine woods without wildlife. While the soil and the plants and the air create a natural wonder, the soul of the forest is its fauna. God built the body to encompass such earthly life during the first four days of creation, then on the fifth and sixth days, he created birds, sea creatures and terrestrial animals. And finally his favorite creation--man. And He said it was good.
And it still is. If you don’t believe me, take a walk in the winter woods and spy a flock of turkeys diligently foraging on red oak acorns. Observe the bright red caruncles of the toms as their heads bob up and down. Watch closely as they detect you, the intruder, and then one by one take flight to the nearest and highest scarlet oak limb. Notice how their iridescent feathers play with the sunbeams on their outstretched wings. Pause briefly to examine the small patches of bare ground between the piles of fallen oak leaves they have pushed away in search of seeds. Think about the time each bird spent picking up acorns one by one.
In the absence of such a wildlife encounter, your walk in the woods would have been rewarding but not fulfilling. You would have given one last glance thinking maybe you might have missed something. A soul makes the body more than just a functioning unit. The opportunity to experience the spirit of the natural world is accessible to all who connect with nature on more than just a physical level. Attempt some soul searching during your next stroll through the forest.