Enjoying Life by Enjoying Nature this Earth Day

by Newt Gingrich

We are living through difficult times.

Israel is at war with Hamas in Gaza. Iran and its proxies are attacking Israel and Americans. Vladimir Putin continues his effort to conquer Ukraine. There are numerous bloody wars and coups in Africa.

At home, illegal immigration, inflation, and drug deaths are out of control.

It is difficult to break out of a sense of impending doom – but it is possible.

For me, I take a little time with Mother Nature. Somehow watching animals or studying past animals just makes me happy.

I was reminded of the rejuvenating power of connecting with nature when National Geographic posted an astonishing video of Emperor Penguin chicks marching to the edge of a 50-foot cliff and diving (or falling) into the Arctic Ocean. They are fluffy, round, cute, and amazing to watch. Callista and I took a 23-day trip to the Antarctic in 2017, and I will never forget the amazing sights and sounds.

Then I was sent a picture of our friend’s 2-year-old son Henry standing right up to the glass and interacting with a baby orangutan at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Both youngsters were beyond charming.

Henry at the zoo. Woody Hales

Outside our office in Naples, Florida, there is a small natural preserve which is home to at least two alligators and three snakes. Nothing helps me break from the threats of the modern world more than strolling around looking for animals (a habit I also have on the golf course where every once and a while I run across alligators, otters, and raccoons). Two blocks in the other direction is the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens. An hour’s stroll there helps release the tension of trying to understand the modern world.

There is also a bald eagle that fishes in the nature preserve. It sits on a telephone poll outside our office and has lunch. All work stops as we take a lunch break with our neighborhood eagle.

Just recently my daughter Kathy Lubbers and her husband Paul Lubbers almost stepped on a crocodile in Key Biscayne. Crocodiles are bigger and more aggressive than alligators. They are rare and more tolerant of salt water.

Photo by Kathy Lubbers

I frequently get lost in modern nature, but I have also always been fascinated with paleontology and the world of the past. Ancient animals give you a much deeper understanding of the range of possibilities inherent in life – and they remind you of how much things change over time.

I am currently enticing my 7-year-old nephew Bobby with fossils, which you can buy for a reasonable price. Every few weeks, something shows up to whet his appetite for learning more about our world. It is fun for both of us and gives me a high point during the day to take a few minutes to search for new fossils.

I was recently struck by the discovery of the world’s largest prehistoric snake. It was found in India and was apparently longer than a school bus and weighed more than a ton. It would have made modern pythons and anacondas look tiny.

This snake, dubbed Vasuki, lived 47 million years ago. Debajit Datta, a paleontologist at the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee, told Newsweek the snake’s size suggests the tropics were warmer now than they were in the past. Other studies have shown snakes and other cold-blooded animals grow larger in hotter climates.

This new discovery delights me in two different ways. First, it is intriguing to think about a world of huge animals that are different from our current environment. (For example, Australia used to have a 30-foot monitor lizard three times the size of a Komodo Dragon and a giant kangaroo.) Second, it is a reminder that climates change and the earth abides.

We have had multiple extinction events in the past, and life came bouncing back. Dinosaurs were big, but the Blue Whale is the biggest vertebrate to ever live. As Jeff Goldblum’s character in “Jurassic Park” famously said, “life finds a way.”

Traditional dinosaurs disappeared, but there are more species of birds than mammals – and birds evolved from dinosaurs which were adapted for flight.

Nature is relaxing and mind expanding. My spirit gets renewed, and my brain gets stimulated. This is largely why I used to teach environmental studies as a college teacher in Carrollton, Georgia. I had the honor of organizing an interdisciplinary program on the environment for the second-ever Earth Day.

I hope this Earth Day you spend some time hanging out with nature. I’m convinced it’s good for everyone.

For more commentary from Newt Gingrich, visit Gingrich360.com. Also, subscribe to the Newt’s World podcast.

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