The joy of nature from home

Jam of the week: “Fools Rush In” by Doris Day and Andre Previn

Nature documentaries have always been among my favorite television programs. I received a copy of “Planet Earth” for Christmas and picked up a cheap two-pack of the documentaries “Frozen Planet” and “Life” last weekend. They’ve been getting me through dry spell between television seasons and there are many things I appreciate about the shows.

First and foremost is the sense of escapism I find in watching these programs. As much as I would like to visit the arctic tundra, in the summer, the plains of Africa, in the winter, or the coral reefs off of Australia, at any point, it’s not really feasible. Work, monetary costs and a slight fear of being eviscerated by a large predatory animal keep me from going there.

In these documentaries, I get to see all these places that are largely untouched by civilization. While I do find some appreciation for the local fauna and foliage, these documentaries often show the rarest and endangered species of the planet. The dedication of the camera crews that go off to exotic locations is incredible. Seeing their work behind the scenes, they wait for hours, often in harsh conditions, to get minutes of footage.

Documenting these parts of an ecosystem, especially from the scientific standpoints they are often presented from, intrigue me. I don’t often think about the creatures around me unless I’m worried about encountering one at high speed in my car. That scientific standpoint is important, because there are plenty of shows that talk about animals in a personal fashion.

I watched “Meerkat Manor” with my mom religiously for a few seasons. My only quip with the program was that they presented their social structure and lives as if it were a human drama. While Meerkats have a very interesting social structure governed by a single matriarch, the show sometimes veered from the scientific towards an emotional narrative.

A more egregious example of this is seen on “Too Cute,” a show that documents the early lives of puppies and kittens. The show doesn’t try to present itself as anything more than approximately 44 minutes of cute animals. However, I remember my Biology teacher in high school who took a portion of a class period to explain the fallacy of trying to explain animalistic behavior with human emotions such as happiness or sadness. I already get enough human emotion when I watch these nature documentaries with other people.

Shared viewing of these documentaries alters my experience of them. I mostly enjoy watching these program with people that share a deep awe of the intricacies of our planet. Still, that same group includes people that will break from that awe on occasion. When viewing “Life” in college with several friends, one simply refused to watch the episode covering insects. While I will drop everything I am doing and go on the hunt the moment I notice a spider in a space I am occupying, I can still get past that primal fear out of curiosity when presented in a scientific fashion.

Similarly, there are the people who gasp in horror when a predator catches its prey. One memorable one was an arctic fox snatching a goose duckling from its nest. Some just can’t get past the death of what they perceive as cuteness. Of course, the irony of their horror comes when that fox returns to its den to feed its pups, who are also pretty darn cute. Did “The Lion King” teach you nothing other than how Shakespeare continues to influence modern media?

An important note of my enjoyment of nature documentaries are the narrators. To modernize an old phrase, I would pay David Attenborough to read my spam folder. The spectacle, the time and effort and thoughts and feelings these documentaries inspire in people will keep me watching as long as there is a nature to watch.