As one of Willows Wept’s primary goals is to interrogate and/or problematize the relationship between human beings and the natural world, I must take issue with Amy’s most recent discussion, “Connecting with Nature, One Graffiti at a Time.” I think the post’s doctrinaire approach to nature is, in many ways, why many people feel themselves rather detached from that concept which is so often referred to as “environmentalism.”
Our entire lives consist of us, as individuals, interacting with our surrounding environment. That relationship can never be at an equilibrium. Indeed, nature is never at an equilibrium. If it were, evolution would cease to a halt, species would perish, and this fantastic globe spinning around the sun would slowly turn desolate.
The hand of humankind is obvious all around us. Highways stretch to the corners of the Earth. And even where the wild seems at its most pristine, airplanes fly overhead, satellite waves penetrate the air, and the ever-present forces of anthropogenic climate change reshape the world.
Amid this massive world of buzzing humans living their lives, girls in high heels walk through the woods, men on their lunch breaks talk on their cell phones as they walk along the shore, and teenage boys tag billion year old rocks with symbols of their angst. Some (wrongly) believe that staying within the walls of the city keep them detached from nature as they sip on a cup from Starbucks; others lie in bed watching Netflix on their computers throughout their free time.
I am not so comfortable with deriding those who choose to venture into quintessential “nature” and sully it with their very human marks. More importantly, I am not comfortable with asserting that I “know any better.”
Not too long ago, I was walking through the woods with a few of my zany friends who embody something more akin to Valley Girls than A.T. hikers. I, in my hiking shoes and flannel shirt, looked like I was walking by them, rather than with them. Hence, when I walked in the direction of a couple in their early twenties, the girls fifty feet behind me, the couple did not think I would mind when the woman said to the man, “Oh, looks like we’ll have to wait forever for the teeny boppers to pass.” She pulled out a nylon handkerchief from her Patagonia hiking pants and wiped it over her sweaty brow. The girls passed by her happily, and she returned with a smug nod.
The girl with the nylon handkerchief might as well have written “Connecting with Nature, One Graffiti at a Time.” To her, my friends were connecting with nature in the “wrong” way. They didn’t look the part. They were loud and laughing. They stood in the way of her and her sincere communion with nature.
But that’s just it. There is no wrong way to commune with nature. A bow tied to a tree in the middle of the forest is no travesty. At worst, it will kill an animal whose undeniable fate is to be eaten by some other animal. At best, it will bring a smile to some onlooker’s face (as it did mine) and remind them that nature is something with which we are to interact and have fun. Nothing owns nature more than anything else; we are all merely players in a chaotic state which stretches from the poles of Antarctica to the tip of the Empire State Building. Whether it be a bow or a lizard, both are only present as a result of random chance through random biological processes. Neither has more of a right to be in the wild than the other.
Graffiti on a rock only hurts those who wish to walk through the woods to see “pristine,” graffitiless nature . The rock is no worse off. That paint will fade in what, to the rock, is more like the blink of an eye. And even if it does not fade, the rock is no worse off. No–the graffiti would stand as a testament to our short presence on this planet. Unlike the person who sits at their computer, loathe to go outside and take a walk, that graffitier has said for eternity, “I was here, and I was part of it.” The passing crow will not care. The sunbathing reptile will not mind.
The perception that we must wear our North Face apparel when we go on walks and act like nature is a solemn place which is somehow different than that area which occupies our every day life has made it easy for people today to ignore their environment. If we, as “environmentalists,” truly wish to effect a change in the contemporary approach to our landscape, we need not begin with a didactic approach premised on the fact that we know the right way to engage with nature, and others simply have not learned. Rather, we must accept that nature is something to be engaged by all in individualized and idiosyncratic manner. We must do away with this pretense that manipulation of landscape is not ok in some distant, artificially “wild” places, but appropriate elsewhere.
We should each, for each other and for ourselves, encourage interaction with landscape and not be so judgmental when others do it differently than we would.
This is not to say that each person has a blank check to do with the nature what they will. No–given this recognition, if for no other reason out of selfishness, we need recognize the impacts our actions have on the world. We must acknowledge that we are facing species extinction unlike anything experienced for millions of years, faster changing climate than ever before, and our own apathy. But, in making strides toward solving those problems, we only hurt ourselves by castigating those who, in their own way, seek to have genuine interactions with their surrounding landscape. Only through such interactions will we begin to see the importance of nature in our own lives.