Nature shock

Korean ecoregion

Will our new ecoregion in Korea change who we are?

– by B. T. Newberg

When you move to a different ecoregion, do you experience nature shock?  If not, why not?

Most people are familiar with culture shock – the cycle of highs and lows experienced in the process of acclimating to a new culture.  But what about nature shock?  Shouldn’t there be a similar process of acclimation to a new ecoregion?

Top image from Kitspix, bottom from

From horizontal Minnesota (above) to vertical Korea (below)

Entering a new ecoregion

My wife and I are currently making just such a transition.  We just left our native Minnesota, with its flat, farm-field prairies in the south, and its flat, rolling timber-woods in the north – all of it dotted with as many lakes as the sky has stars.

Now we’re beginning a new life in a very different landscape.  South Korea’s southwestern province of Jeollabuk-do is a region of rice paddies struggling for space between soaring uplands of forested hills.  Whereas flat Minnesota was all horizontal, rugged Korea is very much vertical.

The question is: are we going to experience nature shock due to the change?

Probably not.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Minnesota.  I try to get up to the North Woods at least once a year, and last year I was fortunate enough to spend a trip with two amazing people.  The land of Minnesota is dear to me.

Yet apart from some nostalgia, I don’t expect much of a shock.  Why not?

Growing apart from the land

Perhaps it’s because nature doesn’t define us any more.  We are living in an age when the land is not fundamentally crucial to who we are.  Local environmental conditions no longer define how hot or cold we are (we have heat and a/c), what we eat (we get food flown in from all over), or how we live (you can go skiing in Dubai).

Nor do local conditions define how we think.  We aren’t compelled to speak of the local water source as Mother, the sky as Father, or the animals as Brothers and Sisters. Frankly, we have the choice to totally ignore them.

But we don’t have to make that choice.  We can pursue a deep relationship with the land, one where we are where we live.  The thing is, we have to actively cultivate that mindset.

Growing closer to the land

So, the question becomes: what can we do to grow closer to the land, close enough that we might experience a shock upon entering a new ecoregion?

1. Spend time in the local region and get to know it.  Where does the local water come from?  From which direction does weather arrive?  What species of migratory birds venture here, and when can you see them?  When can you find wild edibles in season?

2. Perform meaningful activities in local nature.  You can define for yourself what constitutes “meaningful” – whether it’s camping overnight alone in a tent, or crafting a wreath of local in-season blossoms and casting it into a river along with a prayer of gratitude.  Whatever you do, it should have an emotional impact, and it should call into question your relationship with the land.

3. Research your local footprint, and change how you live.  When we realize how much impact we have on the local environment, and how dependent we truly are on it, suddenly it becomes a lot more important to our daily lives.

You see, it wasn’t quite true when I said we have the choice to ignore nature.  We don’t.

In fact, the current global environmental crisis is reasserting the old sense of dependence on nature, and we don’t have the choice to ignore it anymore.  We are starting to wake up – slowly – to how we must live and think in accordance with nature.

So, perhaps it is time to cultivate a genuine relationship with the local land again.  Perhaps it should define who we are.  We might grow close to it, close enough that entering a different region causes nature shock.

This hasn’t always been at the top of my list of priorities.

Be where you live

Maybe my wife and I should be grieved to see no more Minnesota loons on the lakes, and ecstatic for the egrets soaring over Jeollabuk-do.  Maybe we should feel anxious without the flat fields of home, and awed amidst the new rugged uplands.  A cycle of highs and lows should whip us about as we acclimate to this new place.  When transitioning from an old love to a new love, it is only appropriate that we feel grief and loss, as well as hope.

Will we?

Because if we don’t experience a shock when we enter a new region, what does that say about the depth of our relationship to the land back home?

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11 Comments on “Nature shock

  1. I know that I had a flora and fauna shock when I moved farther south to pursue my studies. The first thing was the diversity. I grew up on the edge of the boreal and taiga forest, where the kind of trees are limited to Aspen, Spruce, Pine, and Birch. I often refer to where I am from as “the land of the lakes and yellow autumn” because autumn further south was my first experience of red and orange autumn leaves, large rivers, and highlands. The first thing I noticed during the drive down was the White Pines! So massive and graceful. And the needles are so soft! The first thing I like to do is traverse the area around home base and see where the water and food is – usually meaning the berry plants 🙂 So I definitely got a flora fauna shock when I moved again to Manitoulin – as it is an island made entirely of limestone, which means basic soil, which means an entirely different flora, which means NO BLUEBERRIES! I was sooo disappointed to have found that out. But, in response, I started growing my own blueberry plant in a pot, which should bear fruit this or next year 😀

  2. Oh, I definitely felt nature shock when I moved from Portland OR to Cape Cod. I am used to a land of wooded hills, high mountain peaks, unbelievably tall trees and running water everywhere (ya know, like your basement). The Outer Cape is a lovely place and I eventually came to love it and miss it once I left but when I first arrived I was… well, under-whelmed. Miles of flat sandy beach? 25 foot tall pine trees? Not a real, honest to goodness creek creek for at least an hour;s drive? I came to love the ponds, the marshy edges and windswept shores but I never could get the hang of the humid, bug infested summers 🙂 To this day, whenever I visit somewhere and come back, come over those mountains from the south or the east, I can feel it. I can feel that I am home. Green, wet, dark, big… home 🙂

  3. When I lived in the U.S. (Berkeley), I used to miss the Australian birds, particularly in the morning – kookaburras, magpies, parrots and more. I missed the Land … I looked forward to returning, which I have.

    Brandon, I am sure the place will change you … depends on how long you are there. You will have a relationship with your new place.

  4. I always feel the shock returning home, returning to the old familiar. That’s when the environment that I’m used to for so many years suddenly seems foreign to where I’ve been.

    Now that I’m fresh back from India, I miss you already and wish we could sit down for coffee.

  5. I always get a shock returning home from abroad, when the environment I’m so accustomed to suddenly seems foreign. It’s the familiar suddenly shown as unfamiliar that throws me off.

    Having just returned from India, I recently experienced that returning home to a snowless Minnesota winter. I miss you two already. Wish we could all sit down to a cup of coffee.

  6. At times, I have felt that nature shock, especially over the last few years as I have devoted myself more to a pagan, land-affirming path. I delight in seeing even the smallest of changes from one place to another. Yet, we have to make this our focus. In order to feel any place, you have to spend time in it. No, we don’t have to be separated from nature; we can change that. Every place is special and sacred, and just waits to be reacquainted with us.

  7. It’s true, technology can insulate us, but even so I think you may experience more nature shock than you anticipate. But it may be subtle. We moved from the temperate Midwest to the subtropics and though I felt right “at home” immediately I do think it took some years to truly acclimate. And in some ways I’ve internalized the natural rhythms of the area where I grew up such that some things always feel strange here. That strangeness can of course be more or less wonderful, depending. Good luck to you and your wife.

  8. I definitely experience nature shock. I don’t feel I am very connected to the land. I live in suburbia and can’t even tell you what kinds of trees and flowers I have growing in my yard. But when I leave the Midwest (where I was born and raised) and go to the mountains/desert in Utah or to the coast of Florida or California, I definitely feel disjointed. And it’s not like I’ve never left Midwest for any length of time. I spent 5 years in Utah and 2 years in Brazil. Still, I feel this shock any time I leave my bioregion.

    I went to Pantheacon in San Jose this past weekend and I felt an acute sense of dislocation until I went up into the hills surrounding the city and watched a sunset from a field. When I came back down, I felt much more connected to the environment — more “located”. I had a similar experience when we spent the Christmas holiday in Florida last year. Part of these experiences was no doubt the change in climate — going from parka weather to jacket weather or T-shirt weather. But I suspect there was more to it than that. There’s something about being in a very different kind of place that always causes me to feel dislocated.

    I’d really be surprised if you do not feel nature shock in your move. So stay on the lookout for the symptoms. And best of luck in your new home!

  9. Reporting from Korea here. Rachel and I are almost finished with our orientation, then we’ll be on to our new town.

    So far, the landscape appears very similar to Hokkaido where I lived before, though there are fewer evergreen trees and more deciduous, creating a more overall brown, dull feel right now (it’s winter here). The weather is a damp kind of cold, and the quality of the air is distinctly different from Minneapolis. There’s no snow right now. I’ve noticed very few birds in the small city where we’re at. Just a few pigeons.

    I suspect the nature shock will hit more when we settle into our new town, and get a chance to explore around. I can’t wait.

  10. So now that we’ve been in Korea a little longer, and settled into our new town of Sunchang, I can say a little more about the local surroundings.

    Lots of magpies around everywhere. I think they’re actually the national bird of Korea or something. These black and white birds are lovely to look at. A bit skittish though – they keep their distance, unlike pigeons or crows back home. I saw a heron yesterday, and there are ducks around. The trees are both deciduous and evergreens, and the soil is a reddish mottled brown like gravel. The hills and low mountains are awesome. The bus to one of my countryside schools has to wind up the side of a mountain in first gear for about ten minutes to get over the ridge and into the next valley.

    The vistas would be absolutely delightful if it were not for the constant haze. Locals say it is smog coming from China. I could believe it as being good old locally-grown smog too. Or maybe there is something about the local climate that is more hazy.

    It’s not as cold here as it is in Minnesota normally, but winter is really kicking my butt because Koreans prefer to just let their buildings be cold. They can heat their rooms really well using a system hot water pipes under the floor, but that’s powered by gas and gas is super expensive here. So, everywhere you go, all the time, you’re cold. Including our own apartment, because we don’t want to pay that bill either. I’ve never felt winter so tangibly before. It is a lesson in patience, and an experience of what winter may have really felt like to our ancestors.

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