Some things have to be experienced in person to truly be appreciated like "brain freeze" from eating ice cream too fast, puppy breath, and the beauty and wonder of nature. Someone describing it to you just doesn't give you the full impact of the actual experience.

I like to read books and I'm a child of the television (I have probably watched more than my fair share through the years), but nothing compares to the personal experience.

We can't just intellectualize everything, taking the various forms of detached information and stimuli as the sole source of input, and expect to have the same depth of feeling and understanding about things. There are five senses humans use to understand their environment. The more information you collect using those senses, the more you understand.

More and more experts say nature has a calming effect on humans. I agree with them partly because they have the research to back it up, but also due to personal experience. I know when my day is hassled and harried nothing is better than taking a few minutes and just going for a walk outside. I've seen pictures of the Great Wall of China. I know it's one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. But none of that prepared me for the experience of seeing it in person, huffing and puffing up the varied stairs and ramps and looking out over a breathtaking, incomparable example of man-made architecture.

There are many books, films and television shows about various animals but no matter how many episodes of "Wild Kingdom," "Daktari" or "The Crocodile Hunter" you might watch, nothing instills a greater appreciation for wildlife than actually seeing them in person (as well as smelling and hearing them, too), and in my case, working with them.

A book cannot truly convey the gentleness a large male orangutan can display when dealing with an obnoxious youngster who wants to play and play and play some more now, or the delicacy shown by some spectacled bears when eating their food, or the gusto displayed by others.

Watching a video of an anteater traveling through the grasslands of South America doesn't match the awe of seeing and hearing one roaming just a few yards away from you. A picture on a screen, even an IMAX screen, cannot give you the feeling of insignificance that standing at the edge of the rolling ocean or the base of a towering sequoia instills.

It's hard to explain, but each of these experiences enriches you on a personal level in some way, whether it makes your problems seem smaller, shows you examples of great patience or tenderness, or simply reminds you how magnificent the natural world is. It's a benefit for you in each and every one.

The sense of smell is said to evoke some of the strongest memories: mom's apple pie, a Christmas tree during the holidays, a dragster going down the race track. How about the smell of an elephant or a maned wolf rolling in on a gentle breeze across the field? The roar of a lion, the duet of the siamangs or the hooded cranes, all of these sounds, smells and sights combine to make stronger connections between humans and the creatures with whom we share the Earth.

Environmentalist Baba Dioumonce said, "In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught."

Human activity on the Earth has created many changes, some of them not so good for the other inhabitants of the planet. Our actions affect more than just those close to us; there can be global ramifications, like "the Great Pacific Garbage Patch." It stands to reason that by understanding our connection and making stronger ones with wildlife, our stewardship of the natural areas and wild species that remain will improve.

Don't get me wrong, the books, the shows, films, and webinars, etc., are fantastic. They'll definitely feed one's interest and expand one's knowledge. Not everyone is going to have the opportunity to travel to exotic locations (to China to learn about giant pandas, Africa for black rhinoceros, South America for spider monkeys, etc.).

And not everyone has an accredited zoo or nature center within easy traveling distance. Make that connection to the natural world outside your door. It doesn't have to be a major life-changing experience sit on your porch watching the birds fly overhead, learn about the frogs singing their chorus nearby, watch the squirrels running up and down the trees in the park. There are a number of opportunities out there, including simply enjoying a walk outside. It's the connection, and nurturing that connection that counts.

Just hoping the remaining natural areas and species that currently exist will still be around for future generations to appreciate is a nice dream.

But just standing by letting "others" take care of it is how we got into this situation to begin with. It's going to take the concerted thoughts and efforts of humans who care, truly care, to protect what's left.

What's the first step? Make that connection with nature any way you can, for your benefit and for the elephants, eagles, tree frogs, cichlids and butterflies of the world. Hey, how about visiting the zoo? That could be a great first step.

Visit our website at www.leerichardsonzoo.org.