Most thinkers create a division between the human world and what they call the ‘natural’, the world of plants, animals, weather, the cosmos, etc. We are often encouraged to avail ourselves of nature’s gifts, its beauty, as if this non-artificial form of nature, which is itself an artificial distinction had some moral superiority. So, when I look out my window at the trees, or when I shiver from the brutal cold as I run from my house to my studio, I often feel guilty that I do not feel any more love of the trees, the vines, the clouds, no more amazement than I do my ipod. Many would say that I lack something because of this, but what I am saying is that this moralizing about nature is a way of dividing something that is whole, and by doing so, romanticizes away a confrontation with something deep and possibly terrifying. By looking at everything around us as part of one natural process, we are more able to confront nature, and perceive our feelings and judgments about reality.
When the mystics encourage us to go out into nature, I’m afraid one must conclude that such a place either does not exist or it exists everywhere, that no going is necessary. The lie of our culture is that what faces me outside is something I’ve left behind. No, the trees and the forest were no picnic either. It’s all part of the same networking of growing consumption, and the question has everything to do with ends.
I am not saying I am incapable of finding beauty in nature, but like all things, it’s a matter of taste. I like warm summer days, and sitting by a mild water fall. That appeals to me, as does a quiet morning spent in an empty museum, and sometimes I enjoy the madness of Times Square at midnight. Which one is nature? Which one has more to teach us about existence? Which one should we cling to? Neither or all.
When I look at the naked trees standing in the freezing cold wind, and the grey sky lit by a distant sun, and the snow that covers all the earthen hues, I feel no love of her, of nature. How are we to relate, how are we to be in relationship with nature, without the negative emotions, without anger and disgust? An honest relationship is one where we express ourselves, where we seek our own fullest happiness, and negotiate at the points of conflict. And so, I accept that deeper sustainability with nature might mean more time spent exposed to the elements, but I don’t see anything romantic about this.
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