Care, Reciprocity, and Learning from Place: My 3-year old teaches me how to see

By Lindsay K. Campbell

Urban Systems Lab
Apr 19 · 3 min read

Accepting cycles of life and death. Subtle attention to difference. Appreciating interdependence and care. I learn all these things from and with other species, but particularly with the help of a key interlocutor — my three-year-old daughter, Mía. My experiences with local ecologies have been, like for so many others, honed during this last year of COVID-19 shelter in place which has involved working at home, traveling very little, and social distancing. Walking the streets of my Brooklyn neighborhood at my daughter’s pace, and with her guiding hand, I see this place anew and alive. I’ve lived at the same intersection for 15 years, but I have never known this landscape as intimately.

Mía embraces tree friends

Our daycare is 3 blocks away and at my pace, alone, takes approximately 3 minutes (I know, as I’ve compressed it down to that between back-to-back zoom meetings.) But if I let Mía set the pace, it takes about 30 minutes.

In that time, we notice crocuses, the first daffodil opening (last week), and the first leaf out (this week) — which gives me an attuned sense of seasonality, a nuanced feeling of time passing. Hello flower friends!

We greet the neighborhood pets, stray cats, pigeons, and squirrels as companions, learning their names or offering new ones, wondering where their homes are. Hello animal friends!

And she literally hugs trees — all of them along the way. Scraggly struggling young street trees, middle aged Callery pears, and massive mature gingkos in the neighborhood park — and even the occasional telephone pole — all of them meet Mía in a warm embrace. We try to climb the ones with branches we can reach, we give an affectionate pat to those behind impenetrable guards, we notice bark textures, berries, and fallen leaves. Hello tree friends!

We return home with pockets full of rocks, acorns, and sticks, bringing a few friends over for a visit.

This beginner’s mind, this openness to the new and novel, this vibrant connection to all living beings are things I try to learn from Mía. Going a step further, can I try to inhabit her view? Can I see our neighborhood nature as more fully animate, emotionally charged, even as family?

We want to know the names of plants, how they smell, if we can taste them, who pollinates them or lives nearby (bees, worms, ladybugs). Learning their names and stories teaches us about how to be a better neighbor, steward, and accomplice. I find myself a bit envious of friends who are more knowledgeable, green thumbs, birders, foresters — folks who can read the landscape with their senses and tell their histories. But then I realize I can start. I can learn along with Mía. I can let go of the feeling that I need to be an “expert,” open my senses and try to know my neighbors — plant, rock, wind, sun. I can learn from place.

The world beyond the human is all around us, we are part of it. We are nature and nature is us. If we can see other species and entities as kin, then maybe we can engage in acts of care that reflect this reciprocity and worldview. That sounds like a good anthropocene to me.

— Red Hook, Brooklyn — Lenape-Canarsie-Munsee land

is a research social scientist with the USDA Forest Service — NYC Urban Field Station. Her research explores the dynamics of urban environmental governance, civic engagement, and natural resource stewardship. @lnz37

Resilience Quarterly

A forum for collaborations to envision more equitable and resilient cities.

Resilience Quarterly

Resilience is a quarterly publication co-produced by the Urban Systems Lab at the New School, providing a unique forum to share strategies in design, data visualization, and interdisciplinary scholarship on urban ecology, environmental justice, and sustainable cities.

Urban Systems Lab

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Research, design, and engagement for more equitable and resilient cities. http://urbansystemslab.com/

Resilience Quarterly

Resilience is a quarterly publication co-produced by the Urban Systems Lab at the New School, providing a unique forum to share strategies in design, data visualization, and interdisciplinary scholarship on urban ecology, environmental justice, and sustainable cities.

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