“It is an incalculable added pleasure to any one’s sum of happiness if he or she grows to know, even slightly and imperfectly, how to read and enjoy the wonder-book of nature.” Theodore Roosevelt
I often wonder how Roosevelt would be perceived today. A republican, a liberal, a politician, a cowboy, a rebel, a naturalist, an explorer, a scientist, an avid reader, a soldier, and a lover of nature. He was also a great hunter who went hunting in Africa but in the process helped the Smithsonian museum creating an exhibit that would fascinate and continues to do so to millions of children and adults alike.
He was someone who believed in using natural resources, but opposed being wasteful. What would the United States of America look like today if he hadn’t created 5 national parks, 18 national monuments and 150 National Forests, protecting more than 230 million acres (930,000 km2) of American soil in various parks and other federal projects.
Would Roosevelt be thrown to the pit by the conservationists? Would he be called an “animal hater” by the nature activists? Unfortunately I believe so, and to the lost of our culture.
Like politics and many other issues in our society, nature and the environment have become extremely polarised topics. Common sense has become a rare commodity, replaced by harsh judgements to anyone who tries seeking the middle ground. You are either one or the other and dare if you wish to bring some perspective to the table.
In my talks about our relationship with nature, I spend a lot of time showing how not only have we become disconnected with our environment but also how our perception of nature has become extremely erroneous.
Living in cities, away from the wilderness we are detached from the realities of living in nature. We shop for food at the grocery store, getting our electricity without much effort and have our garbage picked up every week. Our lawn is mown weekly and kept green with pesticide. The modern definition of nature is now a “sanitised and censored” one.
We personify it as this cute and cuddly entity that just needs to be taken care of, fragile and delicate, in dire need of our protection, us its Saviour! Nature has become this poster we put on the wall and admire, this beautified television show where a predator capturing its prey is edited so that blood and death don’t appear to the viewer. It is a world where animated ant, fish, dog, and bear talk and move like humans. A world where hunters who decide to connect with their food are branded prehistoric barbarian and animal loving extremists the voice for an unfortunate and unrepresented kingdom. It is a nostalgic ideology of a pristine and utopian world, a debate where anyone who doesn’t cheer for the cat and eats meat is deemed cruel and against the planet.
But nature is far from any of this. Nature is raw, rough, a struggle, a fight, cruel, deadly, strong, destructive, intimidating and yes also amazing, beautiful, relaxing, humbly, and inspirational. Above it all though, it is resilient and a source of priceless teachings. It teaches you about perspective and reminds you that life is not about Us, that there is something bigger than Us, mere little humans. It teaches you about the costs of life, about sacrifices and what it takes to survive. Try to understand what it means for a species to spend most of its life and energy giving birth to hundreds of thousands, even millions, just to have a handful of survivors. While all the dead ones are essential to support a complex food chain that makes this great biodiversity inhabiting the planet possible. There is nothing sad about this because this is life.
It is easy to chastise the indigenous for hunting when sitting behind a desk pampered by today’s convenient world. It is easy to claim your love for deer, coyotes, elephants, monkeys, badgers, and so many more when you don’t have to physically deal the consequences of their presence. It is easy to click any cause on Facebook and claim to the world what you believe in. I dare you to go live with monkeys in your backyard and see how you deal with them. I dare you to go and deal with elephants destroying your crops year after year. I dare you to go live where deer will eat everything you plant on your property.
Did you know that elephants cause millions of damage and are involved in destruction of woodland and contamination of water?
Did you know that Snow monkeys in Japan raid farms eating soybeans, watermelons, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, potatoes and mushrooms, destroying about 5,000 hectares of farmland each year?
And if by any chance the price of your “organic” food increases, lets say because of “nature” – weather related or some invasion, you are the first one to cry unfairness.
Did you know that our society’s beloved domesticated cat has been responsible for hundreds of million of dead mammals, birds and others? Combined with rats, they have almost wiped out entire island’s ecosystems – so much for our infatuation with the small feline.
So when the CBS Sunday Morning show aired the segment, the “Pro & Cons of Growing Animal Population”, featuring Jim Sterba’s new book “Nature Wars”, harsh comments quickly followed – “… this is anti-nature bullshit propaganda…”.
Because we see nature as this static world. Because we see ourselves separated from it, better than it. Because we believe we are above it. Because we want to pick and choose only the “good” things from nature. But ask any Inuit or Eskimo and they will tell you that the “Whites” live in an egotistical bubble detached from any realities and absolutely disconnected with real nature. And I agree with them.
Nature connectedness doesn’t mean wanting to protect nature – in fact “protecting nature” is a modern concept. It means understanding that you are a part of it and that you are dependent on it for your food, health and survival. It means that you understand that if you don’t respect it and accept the finitely of it, it is not nature that will loose but you.
Being connected to nature is not eating organic food, supporting animal welfare organisations, consuming green or being vegan or vegetarian. It is not about being emotionally attached to it either. Being connected to nature is to understand our interconnectivity with our environment. It is about accepting its teachings, to understand about losses, death, that nothing is perfect – that life is about perspective, that everything is relative. Being connected to nature is basically one simple word, humility. But like everything else right now, we see the world and the planet through the anthropocene lens and believe that life will end if we don’t fix our mess.
I will go as far as to say that except for old indigenous cultures I don’t believe that neither Buddhism nor Hinduism, or again Paganism are philosophies or religions that are connected to nature, because they all put humans as the central being and above everything else. The day that we will stop seeing ourselves as this god creature, we will then be for the first time on the right path.
Our bond with nature has become conceptual not physical and here lies the problematic. Away from its realities, we are unable to balance our judgements. We are ruled by our emotions and incapable of seeing the bigger picture.
“I heartily enjoy this life, with its perfect freedom, for I am very fond of hunting, and there are few sensations I prefer to that of galloping over these rolling limitless prairies, with rifle in hand, or winding my way among the barren, fantastic and grimly picturesque deserts of the so-called Bad Land… its toughness and hardy endurance fitted it to contend with purely natural forces… to resist cold and wintery blasts or the heat of the thirsty summer, to wander away to new pastures, to plunge over the broken ground, and to plow its way through snow drifts or quagmires… There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.” Theodore Roosevelt
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