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A Reflection: The Human–Nature Relationship We Never Realised We Have

"The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit? Yes. Settle? Not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand."

― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

As humans, we have been interacting with nature ever since our species first existed. We discovered the new continents, learnt about the hydrological cycle, understood the food chain, and found plants that can be made into medicine for treating diseases. However, we often do not take the time to appreciate nor contemplate this human-nature relationship that has been going on for centuries.

When we think about relationships, we tend to think about human-to-human relationships, like our relationships with our family, friends, or society. The understanding and experience of our human-nature relationships have been shaping us without us realising that it is a relationship on its own.

Singapore, the City in the Garden

Whenever I hear birds chirping from outside my window, I feel this small burst of happiness inside me. How often does one experience this in today's era of modernisation? I feel extremely privileged to be living in this urbanised landscape hugged by nature.

There was a time when we felt "closer" to nature — when we knew that our lives heavily depended on it. This was when Singapore was still an island of dense forests, before trees were aggressively cut down to make way for roads and settlements. This was also the time when tigers freely roamed the island, occasionally attacking plantation workers and labourers. Singapore used to be the prime location for orchards of pepper, rubber and nutmeg; the earnings from which fed our people. At a point in time, Singapore was even the hotspot for animal trading! The rich environmental history of Singapore is a story that is not often told, but it allows for an interesting perspective that can help us understand how our natural landscapes were shaped, both culturally and economically.

Today, Singapore is crowned as "the City in the Garden", a title that so beautifully encapsulates our living environment. We have indeed come a long way in understanding, consuming and remaking nature. Many other cities in the world look up to our "Little Red Dot" for our progress in nature conservation and developing sustainable urban environments. With our nation's stable development, we now have a larger capacity to focus on enhancing our livelihoods and the natural world at the same time.

Playing a Part in Conserving the Natural World

When we spend time reflecting on this human-nature relationship, we cannot help but link these thoughts to our personal experiences. Which aspect of nature do I interact with most? When do I feel most intimate with nature? What can I do to show my appreciation for nature?

The touch of a physical book unbiddenly brings thoughts of trees to mind. Trees that were planted, harvested and rolled into paper. Words that were printed onto these very pages, which were then bound together, before quietly waiting for someone to uncover its stories within.

As bibliomaniacs, most of us love owning books as much as we love reading. However, this causes a happy problem - we have shelves and shelves of books unending! What do we do with the books that we have read? If the books are really good, maybe we will read them again. But if we are being honest... Most of these books are tucked away in a corner, never to be read again.

There is this unexplainable joy when you own something old, even if that something did not first belong to you. That same joy is felt when you receive a preloved book. "Someone read this exact book before!" Sometimes, you see pale stains on the pages — were they teardrops? — or folds in the corners, and you wonder what was going through the previous owner's mind when they were reading the same book you are now.

All these small observations sparked an idea:

We can help to close the paper loop by encouraging the adoption of used books!

This has led to the birth of A Million Books in September 2020. With the mission to rehome preloved books and contribute all profits towards supporting tree-planting efforts in Singapore, we wish to build a book community that encourages sustainable reading lifestyles. The journey may be new and scary, just as all untraversed paths are, but it is an important one, a part of the conversation between human and nature.

Have you ever thought about our relationships with nature? Could you do something about your current lifestyle to show greater appreciation towards the natural world? Start thinking about it, and share it with us! :)