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I often write to our supporters to share the work that the National Wildlife Federation is doing in the Rocky Mountain West to protect beloved wildlife and its habitat. But this winter I was reminded that the work we do also helps to meet a fundamental human need. Listening to a bird song or staring at a mountain stream is not a luxury, but a right that manifests itself at the most glorious and trying times of our lives. I recently experienced this profound connection between people and nature during a rite of passage that nobody wants to endure, and I will never be the same. - Brian Kurzel
Personal loss provides a glimpse into our need to connect with the natural world
This past winter, I experienced a rite of passage that nobody wants to endure. In March, my father passed away after a fight with cancer. This has been a difficult time for my family and me; but along with the grief and pain, I’ve gained some perspective that makes it easier to bear, while providing a glimmer of inspiration.
As my father’s condition worsened after a long struggle, I was lucky enough to spend time with him during his last days in a hospice center in Buffalo, NY. I really had no idea what a hospice center would be like, and because of the gravity of what takes place there I assumed that all of my impressions would be negative.
However, during the time I spent with my father, I noticed something that shifted my perspective in an interesting way. I noticed that the images on the paintings, photographs, screensavers, murals and sympathy cards looked strangely familiar. They were of the places and the wildlife that I live amongst in the Rocky Mountains. Who would have guessed that jagged peaks, mountain streams and majestic wildlife would be some of the last images my father would see in of all places, Buffalo, New York? And the music that gave my father most solace as he faced this greatest human struggle was overlain with sounds of rushing water and singing birds. It occurred to me that these images and sounds that are meant to provide comfort during the most difficult human experience were of places and things that I work so hard to protect everyday through my work with the National Wildlife Federation.
A painting hung in my father’s room showed a free-flowing stream emerging from a mountain backdrop. A horse drank from the clear waters which flattened out into a series of riffles. I’ll never forget that image that I stared at so intently during what was the hardest week of my life. And I fondly remember what was the most pleasant and ”normal” moment that my dad experienced during that last week: he sat outside in a courtyard, watching squirrels play, talking about life and feeling the wind and sun on his face.
When I was feeling the profound weight of my father’s last days, I started to sense a glimmer of inspiration that has grown ever since. I realized that the way I live my life now, and the devotion that I have to protecting the wildlife and landscapes of the Rocky Mountain West, are an opportunity for me to honor my father and all people who depend on such things for inspiration and peace.
The work the National Wildlife Federation undertakes with other organizations, our tribal partners and myriad supporters helps to preserve something that not only benefits us, the lucky residents of this great land, but also keeps alive a heritage that is inherently part of the human experience. Whether hiking or fishing in a wilderness area, watching migrating geese fly overhead or pondering a painting of such things, preserving wildlife and natural places and connecting people to them is an essential cause.
As I return from that precious time with my dad and I try to continue the life that he taught me to live, I garner strength from the fact that my work on a daily basis is not just for the irreplaceable wildlife and the immense habitats that we have out West. It is also for the people who need these wild things to understand their place in the world and to connect with something solemn and inspiring.
My work and the work of the tireless National Wildlife Federation staff around the US protects the essential values of nature and wildlife and strives to reconnect people to the natural world, transcendent of politics or demographics. Listening to a bird song and staring at mountain stream is not a luxury, but a right that manifests itself at the most glorious and trying times of our lives. I watched firsthand how the human connection with nature is at the core of our human experience, and preserving that connection is a profound need.
So, for my dad and all others who rely on and look to nature and wildlife for solace and peace, I will continue this work with pride and passion. I don’t know if it was a coincidence that within minutes of my dad’s passing a wild turkey walked by the hospice window, but I do know that its appearance gave me a bit of solace when I needed it most. And I will make sure that our wildlife heritage continues to be an inspiration for all who come after.
The primary mission of our program is to conserve essential habitats to sustain healthy populations of native fish and wildlife now and for the futue. America's public lands provide an essential reservoir of habitat at a time when wildlife is losing out to subdivisions, shopping malls and road construction. Over 650 million acres provide habitat for more than 600 sensitive or threatened fish, wildlife and plant species. Keep our public lands healthy for wildlife and for us. Learn More >>
Our Tribal Lands Conservation Program partners with sovereign tribal nations to solve today's conservation challenges for future generations. Our tribal work has staff on the ground from Montana to Arizona. Learn More >>
Getting 10 million kids outdoors
Children are spending half the time outdoors then kids 20 years ago. Today's school kids are teathered to an electronic screen up to seven hours per day. Research has linked these behaviors to a growing body of negative consequences. NWF's Be Out There program is working to restore and develop avenues to connect youth and families with nature and these benefits. Knowing that the future of conservation rests with tomorrow's leaders, it is imperative to ensure kids have a chance to fall in love with wildlife and the great outdoors. Learn More >>