I have been working on this part for several weeks now and I keep running off the rails trying to make points about how most of us are so far removed from nature (which is kind of presumptuous of me). I think I’m ready to get back on track and talk about how I’ve decided to interact with nature.
I have never been one of those “take only pictures, leave only foot prints” hippies. I like to learn things while I am in nature and that means interaction as well as observation. I like to see interesting things and that often means leaving the trail, wading in a stream, lifting up a log or turning over a rock. But I don’t go into nature with the intention of being the loudest animal in the forest nor do I leave a trail of trash and broken limbs in my wake. I feel utter contempt for the nameless hicks who will drive a half mile out into the woods and dump tires or the heartless logger who figures, “since I’m cutting down these trees anyway, who cares if I change my oil and leave the filters and cans laying on the ground?” East Texas is littered with broken glass, old furniture and car parts constantly flowing through our sandy soil disappearing and reappearing with the seasons. It’s almost impossible to find a place around here where someone hasn’t thrown their trash on the ground and left it. I have spent three decades surrounded by these trashy people and I wish I could tell you they are just evil or malevolent; that their littering was malicious and we would be just to persecute them, but the reality is that they are more akin to spoiled children. No one taught them any different and their little minds can’t process that there’s a problem with what they are doing. Their homes will be littered with crap, their yards will be piled with trash and when they get out in the woods they continue the cycle. Even the people who don’t live in white-trash conditions often forget their manners once they are alone in the woods. Plenty of middle-class, mortgage-paying people go hunting or camping and leave as big a foot print as possible. Maybe they think the landscaper will fix it.
(Off the subject; when did they become “landscapers”? When I was a kid there were gardeners, grounds keepers, and kids mowing lawns for a few bucks but no landscapers. I know a guy who sold his company in Garland and moved out here in the woods, bought a trailer, a commercial lawnmower and some weed trimmers and makes as good a living as he did in Dallas. OK, back to the subject.)
Trash is bad and wanton destruction of nature is worse. As a species, we have millennia of experience “working the land” however in the last century it’s become A) a past time for bored suburbanites who want to control which flowers grow in their over-priced neighborhoods and B) Corporately controlled and scientifically rigorous agricultural endeavors that pay dividends. In these two scenarios I often see wanton destruction of nature.
The average neighborhood is filled with non-native plants that require ridiculous effort to keep thriving. It’s a horrible expense that the average homeowner pays for benefits they rarely see. Drive around any suburban neighborhood and count the yards with no one in them. We are a nation of people sitting inside watching TV. Anything at all could be growing in our yards and, most hours we are at home, we wouldn’t know the difference. There’s an argument to be made here that this is all the fault of climate control in our homes. Modern climate controlled homes can be any architectural style with no regard for the native climate. They retard our connection with our yards. In fact, the manicured yards and non-fruiting fruit trees are a non-functional extension of the design of the modern suburban house. Meh.
I shouldn’t waste any words on the commercial affect we have on the environment. From massive monoculture agriculture to ridiculous shopping centers consuming 3 times the area in parking as they do in buildings we have established a neat way to parse out space for our first world lifestyle. Take a trip to a very old, hilly city like San Francisco and see how they utilize space to get people into their banks, movie theaters and chain restaurants (lot’s o’ bus rides inside the city proper and lots of minimalist entrances and seating arrangements). Then go to somewhere flat and more recently populated, like Tucson. They’ll smooth out 5 acres of desert for one more Bank of America, Carmike Cinema or Applebee’s. Where was I going with that? Oh yeah! We mow down the existing world and build back something that suits us better. You need thousands of acres of crops and livestock to feed a city full of people who use all their space, sunlight and water to grow things they can’t eat while living in houses that are too hot or too cold without climate control at the end of cul-de-sac that makes it doubly far to walk to anything you need in a city designed based on everyone owning a car and commuting to work. This is the modern first world we have built and if you want the advantages (right now) you have to take the problems too. But you could also grow carrots or tomatoes in your yard. I’m just saying.
So, what do I do when I’m not cutting down God’s trees to I build a deck surrounded by Asian shrubs that will look cool next to my store bought grill where I cook the meat I didn’t have to chase down or even butcher myself? (Full stop! That was sarcasm I don’t have or do any of those things. Continue!) I get high and mighty about not mowing down everything around me, that’s what. I clean up around my house to try to keep bugs and vermin at bay but I don’t burn down the woods “because that’s where they come from”. (I know people who actually burn shit down to keep the bugs at bay).
I’m not above using a trap or even poison to deal with pests but it has to be done carefully and it has to be cleaned up. I am well aware that what goes down my drain ends up in my water. I put thought into the soaps I use and I try to keep the strong chemicals to a minimum. (When I die of a mysterious fungal infection you have my permission to say “He should have cleaned better!”)
Every year, I grow something that I eat regularly, even if only for ceremony. I could certainly buy bigger, better peppers grown by pro’s in scientifically controlled hot houses and I could let the good people at McCormick supply me with all the spices, herbs and seasonings that I use (they supply me with most of them now). But I don’t mind waiting months to grow basil that they are cranking out for my consumption at a modest price. Some of you are thinking “You’re in the store anyway! Get with the program you nut.” But the fun is in the picking. There’s something that feels good about looking at that chicken in the pan and saying “Oh! I need to run outside and cut a couple sprigs off the rosemary bush.” It’s a link to how people have lived all over the world for generations. The grocery store is not.
Historically, we put forth the effort to change the parts of the world that we used. A Bronze Age farmer only cleared the land he could plant. More than that and he would have to watch on eyears work fade away into the wilderness when he could not keep it up in subsequent seasons. In the modern world we change everything we want whether we need it or not (like our yards, our cities and even our farms)
Wow. I got off the rails again and I still haven’t mentioned anything about spending time in nature.