Where Has All The Nature Gone?

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity … and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.
– William Blake, English poet, painter, printmaker (1757-1827)

Living as I do in a forest, beside a lake, I have the opportunity to see nature at its finest and its most agitated. Just today, for example, our electrical service returned after being off for two days due to a storm that caused so much damage and brought so many trees down over so many electrical wires that the repairmen had to travel each line looking for problem after problem.

Yet each morning my wife and I sit in our living room, with our morning coffee and a little “morning cake” and look out over the lake to a scene which has never been identical for any two days we have been viewing it for the past 12 years. City people who own cottages in the area would say that the scene changes only from dark to light and from season to season. We see differently.

As of this year, for the first time in human history, more people will live in cities than in rural settings. What does it mean? If greenhouse gases really are responsible for global warming, the problem begins in cities where people have very little to do with nature on a regular basis. Our atmosphere, our oceans, our disappearing forests, our desertifying drylands, our increasingly liquid Arctic, on the other hand, are almost completely devoid of people. People don’t care much about what they can’t see.

My wife and I struggle to live in harmony with our trees and the rest of nature. They destroy our roof shingles in half the expected lifespan the manufacturers suggest. They prevent flowers and other plants from growing in some places, with the pines even making the soil alkaline (toxic to some plants) by dropping needles all year long. Raccoons, birds and other assorted animals mess up our compose as they chow down on food matter we couldn’t eat. That’s just for starters.

The city folks at their cottages don’t have such problems. They cut down most of the trees (“to let in more light”), forgetting that trees provide natural cooling in summer by keeping sunlight off the roofs, as well as creating oxygen. They plant their denuded properties with grass, in an effort to make them look more like the aristocratic mansions of England (which they envy).

Then they build the mansions themselves, most of which exceed 2000 square feet–some up to 10,000 square feet–far more space than they can possibly use or keep clean on thier weekend visits (they hire cleaners). But the properties impress visitors (also from the cities) who Ooooo! and Aaaaaa!, make noises of praise and drink up all the offered alcohol and drugs.

Meanwhile the wilderness transforms into ghettoes of nature as the cottagers turn long term walking and hiking trails into paths for their all-terrain vehicles, their snowmobiles and their 4 x 4 SUVs (aka “Jeeps”) unfit for human walkers and places to avoid for deer, bears, foxes, coyotes, moose and heaven only knows what else.

Cities, despite the efforts in recent years by planners to provide some semblance of nature for their un-natural (sometimes nature-phobic) denizens to enjoy, have become sterile places where nature is treated like zoo specimens, something to be viewed in small doses on rare occasions.

Does the dearth of real nature in cities cause people to lose their imaginations, as we might use as a corollary to Blake’s quote? Not necessarily. But if you want to demonstrate your imagination in the city, you had better have money to support yourself, be prepared to endure the hostility of others toward your efforts (or create in silence) and possibly endure the odd visit to a courtroom (as defendant).

Is there a solution to this dissociation or alienation of city dwellers from nature? Yes. We need to teach children about nature so they know that everything they eat comes from it and every excess they enjoy will have a negative impact on it.

When children have the opportunity to be close to nature, to appreciate it and learn from and about it, they gain a treasure and a spirit toward nature that they will not lose for a lifetime. Without that early contact with nature, the most involved that many people will get is to grieve over the warming of our planet. But not while they drive their SUVs to the cottage.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how, what and when to teach children the lessons and skills they need to live healthy, well balanced and well adjusted adult lives so they know they are part of nature not separate from it.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

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