Blog Center for Community Health Partnership & Research

Community health – An idea first developed by Mother Nature

Written by David A. Patterson Silver Wolf, PhD, MSW, associate professor at the Brown School

If a creature from outer space came to Earth wanting to collect a specimen capable of disrupting and destroying the health of its own community, pretty much any human would do. If that same creature also wanted to study a living being that ensured the health and wellness of its community, pretty much any animal would do.

My point is this: when Mother Nature is unaltered, community health is ensured. Please allow me to tell a quick story.

A few years ago my family started a tradition of planting trees in our yard on Mother’s Day. My wife and I thought it was good for our two boys to learn that we should show respect for all of our Mothers. We planted apple, peach, cherry, dog wood, red bud, and different maple trees in our little yard. Many animals also live in our neighborhood, like rabbits, deer, and turkey. Each spring we like to watch the process of Mother Nature coming to life.

There is an underground bee colony that comes to life annually – it looks like a bee volcano at times. Our boys understand the pollination process and the importance of all of these living-beings working together, so bee killing is not allowed. If a bee finds its way into our home, it is important to help her find her way back out as she has become lost on her way to work.

Pink apple blossoms

We regularly walk around the yard witnessing and monitoring our Mother’s work. Seeing the bright white apple blooms, for some reason, makes me and our family especially happy. I am proud to see those bees buzzing around and cross pollinating. Although I eagerly wait to see the first baby apples appear on those skinny little apple tree limbs, I sometimes worry that the seemingly small twigs that are supposed to hold the apples will not be able to support their weight. It seems odd that my 50-year-old mind would worry about whether my billions-year-old Mother would successfully cycle and give birth again. (I’m not sure how these trees have survived millions of years without my recent help and worry?!)

One day, during my regular rounds in the yard, I noticed that every baby apple bud had been eaten by our local deer population. As you might guess, I was upset. How dare these rogue deer come onto my small lot of land and deface my beautiful garden! I also noticed that once all the apple buds were eaten, the terrorist deer targeted other plants, eating many of them to the nub. Further, a notorious gang of outlaw rabbits de-flowered most of our remaining blooms.

My evenings of walking around and witnessing Mother Nature’s beautiful works went from the feelings of joy and excitement to thoughts of revenge. A vision of me attacking the first deer setting his little hoof on my lawn was very satisfying. I experienced a very human reaction to what was happening in Mother Nature’s world – “I will fix this to my own desires.” I had the misguided belief that I was capable of altering my Mother’s billions-year-old plan!

Luckily, I came back to my good senses. Mother Nature does not take something away from a community without giving something back that ensures the on-going success of that community. It is only us humans that act in these ways – we take many things from our Mother and communities without returning anything. These deer and rabbits are simply living by our/their Mother’s healthy community design.

Please allow me to suggest that the closer we humans live by our Mother’s design for healthy communities, the healthier we all are. Our Mother did not design a community with obesity, alcoholism, drug addiction, and all of the conditions addressed by public health services. These conditions do not exist in any other living animals — only humans. A community guided by our Mother’s design is a healthy one. A community led by human self-will is evident by its outcomes.

The design for a healthy community was developed before our existence. As an academic researcher faced with understanding and developing interventions to help turn around an unhealthy community, I have to be guided by proven success – evidence-based practices seems to be the term of late. The best, most reliable, proven evidence to follow is our Mother’s design for healthy communities.