“I love nature!” The words slip so easily off the tongue, carrying with them a feel-good emotion. Good value.
The problem I have with such a common expression, is that it is a separation mechanism in itself, suggesting that we humans are somehow different from nature. With the questionable exceptions of test tube babies and clones though, we’re all as natural as the birds and the bees, or grasses and trees. So long, I should add, as they haven’t been genetically modified to improve their performance or have similar dubious qualities.
Surely as long as we continue to treat Nature as something outside of ourselves, there’s a high risk of not identifying with it, and that seems to me to be exactly where many of the big problems we face with the environment and our relationship with it. Too often, ‘we’ are posited on top of the heap, with all other entities subservient to our particular needs or desires, at the exclusion of all else. Sure, things seem to be getting better in some ways – may the trend continue and grow, and pity help us if it doesn’t.
Years ago I was standing on my verandah in the forested hills of northern New South Wales. It was winter, a cool, still, moony night, and I couldn’t resist letting loose a sonorous cooo-eee. My call returned to me five times, the sound bouncing off one slope after the other, receding in volume and clarity in order. Pure exhileration, perfection in that moment.
I was overwhelmed by that perfection; that I was in such an exquisite environment, surrounded by such beauty. I’m sure everyone’s had such moments. No effort required, only presence, being there. But what multiplied the experience for me was the sense that I was a part of that place and moment. More still, I had choices as to what role I played there, and into the future.
I could do absolutely nothing, in which case at the worst I might be felled by a great branch breaking off one of the great lanky flooded gums, a ‘widow-maker’ as such a branch is known. Then I might simply rot away, a passive element in Nature there, but very actively a part of the process of recycling of nutrients, to be used by the forest in one way or another to benefit it’s continuation, it’s evolution.
Or I could take a chain saw, hire a bulldozer, or buy a box of matches, and transform it relatively quickly into a place altogether different . I could run a herd of cattle on there, and thus maintain it in the state to which I had reduced it, except that it would be slowly degrading through the erosion that would take place, the departure of so many species that made up such a rich diversity as forest. The echoes might be even better though!
There were of course other options to me. One might be to make a determination to protect that land, and enhance it: by actively preventing or minimising erosion through planting degraded areas; by controlling excesses of water damage, mechanically by hand or machine; by adding to the existing diversity through introducing new plants which would in turn attract different birds and insects and animals and other unseen organisms. I could actually speed up the process of enrichment.
Here must I acknowledge that perhaps I tread on a controversial point; the notion that I would be interfering in the “natural” processes. If I consider myself as somehow ‘different’ than Nature, some odd outsider with no right in interact with the ‘others’. But I don’t. I believe in my capacity, my responsibility, to be conscious of the impact I am having on my environment by whatever I do.
Bill Mollison said that ‘in Nature, there is no good or bad; only consequences.’ I like that philosophy.