Cattail reeds puff out little silky fluffs that fly around so freely in the air. An empty nest of a Red-winged Blackbird, beautifully woven around the reed stems, sways in the evening breeze which now feels cooler and crispier. A Red-veined Meadowhawk buzzes from one leaf to another to escape a bumblebee who's taking in the last bit of nectar from the Boneset flowers. Up above, I hear a flock of Canada geese honking away, seemingly planning their southern-bound flight. These indicate, as I stroll through a wetland of the 280-acre forest reserve next to which I live, that the beautiful summer days are fast coming to an end.
As a lifelong nature-lover and a Master Naturalist of Wisconsin, I often ponder on the intricacies of what nature displays to us, especially when one season changes to the next. Reeds, birds, dragonflies, bees, plants, water, clouds, and the whole wide range of other gems of this wonder world are not merely beautiful things to look at, hear, and feel; they are also essential components of an elaborate ecological system, often beyond our immediate perception. Each living and dead being alike is important to one another, a part of each other's mutual survival, strength, procreation, and even evolution. This is what really attracts me to the natural world; the details of each symbiotic relationship, how one entity directly or indirectly influences another, and how all seen and unseen relationships build indomitable and often-hidden ecological systems. Hidden, a keyword!
On a daily basis now, we read about political and extremist activities of the world leading to scores of displaced and homeless immigrants. We see local events that raise questions about ethical policing and safety of communities. The divisions of us and them and resulting cultural tensions seem to escalate more and more. Some seem to regard others in isolation, as if there are no connections between them. But, as I stand on a small crossing watching the crystal clear creek slowly flowing by, I make the comparison that just like the natural environment in front of me, culture is a complex and organized system and each culture is connected to another to create a cohesive scheme that we call a society. Traditions, beliefs, values, practices, thought processes, space use, spatial preferences within a culture — and by association within a society — are so much fused together that it is often difficult to even take them apart. Just as in nature, some of these multifarious aspects work together as a complex system. They may not all be readily observable and understood, but they are there, as a hidden system. This is perhaps why such devastating conflicts tend to arise; some understand others merely from an external, superficial view, not seeing that in an interconnected, systemic, hidden structure, the division of us and them cannot truly exist. Just as in natural ecology, each culture is a part of the large, cohesive structure and each hidden component — be it ethnicity, traditions, beliefs, or space — we will need for our own survival, strength, procreation, and evolution as a society, as a world.
The point of all this? EDRA has a strong footing in this very direction. For nearly 50 years now, our organization has delved deeper and deeper into uncovering, understanding, and unfolding such hidden systems of people, cultures and places. We ourselves are a diverse "eco-system;" we are architects, interior designers, urban designers, landscape architects, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, neuroscientists, geographers and more, working together, inquiring ever so inquisitively and tirelessly. We understand that the world operates in a systemic manner and that all aspects of a society, culture, and environment are interwoven with multiple, sometimes hidden, threads. Our quest to deeply understand those hidden connections is what makes EDRA a significant platform. We try our best to shed light on why the us-them dichotomy is a useless concept, an unproductive effort to separate what is inherently inseparable. Our entire world is an ecology that works as a complex web of connections of living beings and their environments, not that different from the forest I now leave behind to walk back home.
Are you a member of EDRA? If not, please join us now so that we can uncover the exciting hidden treasures of environmental design research together! Become a member, attend our annual conference, enjoy many other benefits, and be a proud 'Dr. Watson' of EDRA!
Photos by Nisha Fernando.