The Coronavirus and The Eight Master Lessons of Nature: What Gary Ferguson and Mary Clare are Teaching Us About Living Well in the World

March 19, 2020 Update: Journalist John Vidal poses this question in The Guardian: "Is our destruction of nature responsible for Covid-19?As habitat and biodiversity loss increase globally, the coronavirus outbreak may be just the beginning of mass pandemics." Scroll down for the link to the article.

Did any of you, when you first heard that the coronavirus was sourced from a live-animal market in China, have this fleeting thought: What did we expect after centuries of treating animals cruelly? Did we think there would be no consequences?  Perhaps it’s time we look not only into the pathology of the coronavirus, but also into the morality of it.

We have always known there would be a day of reckoning. The bad news is that the final arbitrator might be Supreme Nature herself. The good news is that the final arbitrator might be Supreme Nature herself.

In Lesson Five of The Eight Master Lessons of Nature (“Our Animal Cousins Make Us  Happier—and Smarter”), author and good friend Gary Ferguson writes that “the very same science that’s helped us better appreciate the intelligence and range of feeling in many wild mammals is now suggesting that the animals we raise for food have also evolved with impressive levels of consciousness.”

The fact that Gary would even have to make this point is a reminder of how far we have wandered from our own animal natures. Thanks to writers like Gary, we may no longer be surprised to learn that elephants will honor the death of one who departs the herd (Gary gives us some beautiful examples of this), but most of us are surprised to learn that a herd of domestic cattle also pays homage to a member who has passed on. (To read the story of Ava, the cow pictured in the background with her dead calf and other herd mothers, please go to Autumn Wettner, SteelStock Ranch, Facebook).

I have had editors take a red pen to my sentences when I refer to animals as “one” or “who.” I have argued with editors who would insist that I refer to an animal as 'it' instead of 'she' or 'he.' But she’s not an ‘it’! I have exclaimed. How can she be an ‘it’ when I am watching her give birth? 

Why is it much easier to divert our attention away from our kinship with animals, than to embrace what it is they teach us about ourselves?

In Lesson Four of The Eight Master Lessons of Nature (Healing the Planet, and Ourselves, Means Recovering the Feminine), Gary explains, in story after story, how the vast majority of human cultures came to undervalue the feminine. “Again, nature has created a world where the success of elephants and wolves and lions and countless other species comes from a full expression of both sexes,” writes Gary. “The idea that one gender is more important than another is a human illusion— one that ignores the fact that nature is an expression of the balance between the two. Plain and simple, life thrives when the masculine and feminine are fully partnered.”

Women were not the only victims of this divisive paradigm. Men, too, became estranged from their own wisdom when they ceased to look to the feminine aspects of Nature for guidance.

Gary, who began leading outdoor wilderness retreats for troubled teens in the 90s, openly talks about this in Lesson Four.

"It was only in my later teens, when I was really steeped in the natural world, actually seeing how these energies were entwined, that some of these earlier assumptions began to unravel, including, happily, many of the misguided conclusions I’d made about the value of the feminine in boys. In men. In me." (this photo was used in the cover art of Gary's book Shouting at the Sky: Troubled Teens and the Promise of the Wild )

Gary asks the reader, in the first lesson, to embrace the mystery of all that we do not know. He reminds us that, like Albert Einstein, Jane Goodall is "unwilling to explain life through truth and science alone. 'There’s so much mystery. There’s so much awe.'” In this audio sample from The Eight Master Lessons of Nature, Gary reads beautifully from this section (Penguin Random House)

In what way, then, is Nature the Supreme Arbitrator? What can we learn from Nature about humility, and diversity, and surviving disasters such as wildfires, or the coronavirus? What can we discover about the economy of Nature that will help us to better balance the vast resources of our earth? What can learning about the generosity of an elder tree that shares nutrients with younger trees teach us about honoring our own human elders? 

In The Eight Master Lessons of Nature, Gary's call us to rekindle our connection with Nature. "It really is possible to mend our relationship to the world around us and, through that mending, release an intelligence millions of years in the making. The journey begins with eight  lessons—each one a window into seeing both outward and inward at the same time, views that afford a very different reality than the one we settled for all those years ago."


If you would like to learn more about how to integrate these Master Lessons into your life, please take a moment to explore FULL ECOLOGY (retreats, workshops, conversations and keynotes) that Gary offers in partnership with his wife, Mary M. Clare, Ph.D. Blending biology, storytelling and social science, Gary and Mary are committed to helping us "reclaim our human nature."

NOTE: According to National Geographic's editor: “On February 24, the Chinese government moved to make permanent the temporary ban on the trade and consumption of live wild animals for food. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, the country’s top legislative body, issued a decision that lays the groundwork for amending China’s Wildlife Protection Law, which governs the use of wildlife, to permanently criminalize wildlife as food. The decision further stipulates that the trade of wild animals for medicine, pets, and scientific research will be subject to “strict” approval and quarantine procedures.”

NOTE: The Guardian, John Vidal, March 19, 2020:  "Tip of the iceberg: is our destruction of nature responsible for Covid-19?" Read the article.

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