| 1050 words

Something that I often use to anchor myself is good media. I'm usually making my way through some game, book, and TV show and if one of them is really good then that really increases my quality of life. It gives me something to look forward to throughout the day, and I find that enjoying truly great art can have a sometimes feel a little bit profound. Right now I don't think my book or my game are anything too special, but I'm really really enjoying the TV show. And that happens to be a nature documentary.

Nature documentaries are some of the my favorite types of things to watch. The Planet Earth franchise by the BBC (including Planet Earth 1, 2, and 3) are some of my favorite documentaries and even TV shows ever made. There's something so real and so raw about seeing real clips of real animals on our planet compared to even the most well acted and scripted television drama.

I've always had a bias for reality. I often read history books and go to museums, not because the stories they tell are much better than what you can get in the best movies and fiction. It's because if I know that a story really happened then that elevates it beyond what most fiction can reach. The same is true for the dramas that play out between animals in nature documentaries. Sometimes I can't believe that some of the stuff on the screen really happened. Stuff that is so amazing it almost seems scripted.

I find that when I watch nature documentaries I really learn. Not like other documentaries, which often inundate you with names and dates and some exciting video clips but not much else. When you see the splendours of nature playing out before your eyes, it changes your worldview. It doesn't matter if you don't hear any of the narration or the music. Just seeing animals in their natural environment live their lives in the wild, doing things you'd never think animals were capable of; seeing their majesty, true majesty in a way you don't often see in the modern world anymore. That's learning in a deep sense, more than you get from any book or lecture.

It reminds you that we share this earth of ours with millions of other different creatures, and they were here first. It's a surprisingly easy fact to forget these days, where you spend most of your time either at home or at work, and maybe see the odd squirrel or seagull on the commute. It's incredible to think that there are places where animals roam free, and where humans are not always the apex predator. That we are a pretty recent phenomenon, but animals have been living similar lives in similar habitats for literally millions of years.

This is also one big reason I like to get out into nature. It's such an incredibly different feeling; you become more like a guest of the wildlife, exploring at their mercy, rather than an undisputed master of your environment where everything from the temperature to the light can be changed on a whim. The feelings I get from hiking and from nature documentaries are very similar.

There's one very difficult aspect of nature documentaries, however, that makes it hard to generally recommend. Most of an animal's life is spend trying either to find food or reproduce; it's not an easy existence and that's the source of a lot of the drama that makes it interesting. However you have to consider what it means for an animal to find food. Oftentimes you'll be watching a fearsome predator chase down and kill its prey, usually gruesomely. Nature has little use for mercy. Either way it's hard to watch; if the predator gets a meal then a cute prey animal is brutally killed and eaten, but if it gets away then you see a majestic predator - king of its domain - slowly succumb to starvation.

Nature is brutal, and despite some squeamishness this is another benefit of watching nature documentaries. To remember that the default state of existence is messy and violent and that the lives we all enjoy today and wonderful anomalies that countless people work tirelessly to maintain. That's not all however; another point these documentaries make, especially the more recent ones, is our role in all the nasty violence that goes on due to human activities.

That's right. When we hunt, factory farm, fish on industrial scales, we're causing great harm to the natural environment. Thousands of intelligent animals being slaughtered, separated from their families, driven extinct. I won't go into the details, but some of these segments are extremely hard to watch. And yet, I think it's extremely important to watch them.

Stuff like this is a big part of why I try to be vegetarian. This may be a little bit radical, but when you eat (most) meat I consider that being complicit in what goes on to collect that meat. And that often involves a lot of animal suffering and cruelty. Not even only at the actual moment of killing; it also involves burning natural jungles and grasslands to the ground to have space to farm, driving less yummy creatures to the brink of extinction so there's more space for the meat we like.

I don't necessarily think everyone needs to become a vegetarian, but I wish everyone who eats a lot of meat would have to watch documentaries like this. Form a small connection with nature, see the kinds of animals that provide the food they so enjoy. Realize the human impacts on nature and what our drive for profit and cheap food is doing to the natural environment. At least comprehend the impacts of their choices before continuing on their way.

Anyway despite how I make it sound it's not all bad. There's a lot of beauty and wonder in those documentaries as well. There's so much beyond us humans; so much life and nature that we often take for granted. With these documentaries maybe we'll gain some appreciation for mother earth.