Blue Ridge Naturalist: “Look Deep into Nature and You Will Understand Everything” (Albert Einstein)

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After a raccoon kit fell out of a nest box located on a radio tower in the author’s yard, its mama had to work against gravity to carry it about 30 feet straight up—an arduous task, indeed! Photo: Marlene A. Condon.

When I wrote my book in 2005, I mentioned that no matter how many precautions you took, you would get scratches, and I dutifully pointed out how important it was to keep tetanus shots up to date and to clean your wounds with soap and water. However, I did not dutifully mention applying antibiotic ointment to them. 

When my editor read this section, he called to ask why I hadn’t suggested using these ointments that are so widely recommended for cuts. I told him that when washing with soap and water was not possible, or my cut not serious enough to make me take the time to get into the house to wash it, I had always applied my saliva to the broken and bleeding skin instead. I had never gotten an infection in all my decades of gardening, so I had never personally found the use of antibiotics to be necessary.

I explained that during my life, I had observed numerous kinds of mammals. I’d noticed that when an animal had a wound, it licked it—sometimes a lot—suggesting to me that saliva must have antibiotic properties. Just as form follows function in architecture and animal anatomy, I realized that in life, behavior follows necessity.

Wild animals, like humans, get hurt, but unlike humans who have salves they can apply, wild animals need a way to help their injuries to heal without infection. It was obvious to me that because wild animals do not waste energy (every behavior can and must be explained in terms of benefit to the organism), they would lick their wounds only if it were beneficial. I saw no reason why that rule of thumb would not also apply to me when I suffered a superficial cut.

My editor found this fascinating. It made sense to him, and he pushed very hard for me to include this information in the book. However, I demurred. Knowing how litigious our society had become, the lawyer in me thought better of making any recommendations regarding human health without an official study to back me, even though the scientist in me knew I must be right.

Indeed, just two years after my book was published in 2006, researchers in the Netherlands confirmed what I’d told my editor, and went even farther than I did:

“A report by scientists from The Netherlands identifies a compound in human saliva that greatly speeds wound healing. This research may offer hope to people suffering from chronic wounds related to diabetes and other disorders, as well as traumatic injuries and burns. In addition, because the compounds can be mass produced, they have the potential to become as common as antibiotic creams and rubbing alcohol.” [Licking Your Wounds: Scientists Isolate Compound In Human Saliva That Speeds Wound Healing] sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/ 080723094841.htm

I wasn’t surprised by these findings. For man to have survived on this planet for as long as he has, I would expect the human body to be able to heal itself, at least to some degree, when a person emulates wild-mammal behavior that results in healing. By living in close association with nature, we can pay attention and thus learn important life lessons that empower us to make wise choices.

I’ve watched many kinds of critters raise their young, and this activity provides valuable mentoring for anyone who’s a parent. Wild animals raise their offspring to be self-sufficient within the timeframe allotted them, and then the young are sent out into the world to make their own way.

Humans should copy this blueprint, but parents do not always properly prepare their young adults to set sail on their life’s journey. Especially in today’s electronic world, children are unlikely to be taught the basics of survival.

Such things as knowing how to grow your own food; how to cook, clean, and sew for yourself; as well as how to behave in human society to keep it functioning properly are critical skills that are no longer viewed as particularly important or essential to life. Yet if our civilization decays into chaos, as so many ancient civilizations have done before us and as currently seems more likely every day, the only thing of value will be your ability to perform the tasks necessary for survival.

One type of behavior you don’t see in the natural world is helicopter parenting. Although a degree of oversight is necessary to prevent your child from getting seriously hurt, some parents stifle their children by hovering over them and denying them any independence. But a degree of self-determination is necessary for youngsters to learn about the trials and tribulations they are likely to experience. 

I once heard a baby animal crying and looked out the window to see a Common Raccoon frantically running around in circles, obviously terrified. I then noticed its mom coming down from the den to rescue her kit that must have fallen out of its home high above the ground. She calmly picked up the little animal in her mouth and, although it was quite an effort, carried it upwards about 30 feet. I’m sure that baby learned a valuable lesson about the necessity of exploring its world in a more cautious manner, as it never again fell out.

Birds can teach us valuable lessons. In many species, males of mated pairs not only help to raise chicks, but also take care of the female as she is incubating. A male Carolina Wren, for example, brings his mate food. A male Eastern Phoebe perches nearby the nest site all day to warn his mate if predators are around and to try to drive them off. Women would do well to find men with these qualities!

Mother Nature is a wonderful teacher, and you can apply her wisdom to your own life by paying attention to what our fellow inhabitants of the planet are doing out there. Best of all, there’s no tuition to attend this school where the learning never ends. 

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