Nature is the world around us, except for human-made phenomena. As humans are the only animal species that consciously, powerfully manipulates the environment, we think of ourselves as exalted, as special. We acknowledge that in an objective view we are merely one of many organisms, and that we are not able to survive outside of our natural world of air, earth, water and life. But we tend to be poor leaders in the "hierarchy" of animal life. Despite our greatness, too often we waste, we fight, we breed heedlessly, and are too self-centered and short-sighted. I take note of the increasing awareness of ecology, at least in Western culture, and am heartened. We may still change our weapons of war into tools of peace, and our habits of despoilation into nuturing. Earth is so large, that even if humans destroy ourselves, plus most other life forms, there will still be nature. The soil, oceans, atmosphere and weather would still interact with solar power to allow some life to exist. Earth cannot be a barren place like the moon. Humans can, then, reduce our planetary paradise into a hell of sorts, but cannot, I believe, destroy the planet itself. This thought, sober and gloomy, is a modern one; in earlier ages it is unlikely that people contemplated ourselves wiping-out most life on earth. I don't know why I brought it to the forefront of my nature essay. It does offer a perspective. Nature's life forces, as well as its winds, eruptions, quakes, avalanches, freezes, etc., is immensely powerful. I recall being allowed to study revegetation on the freshly-erupted Mt. St. Helens. It was more than 10 years ago, so my memory has retained only a few observations: life was strongest near water sources, and the weediest plants were most successful in revegetating the barren gray ash. Mosses tolerant of Seattle's freeway cracks grew on the loose sand and ash. Fireweed, which thrives after forest fires, clear-cuts and bombed sites, was abundant. If memory serves, scientists in general expressed pleased surprise at the rapidity of revegetation.
Even in this age of high-technology, where many people who live in cities and work full-time with computers see but little nature intimately -- at least we all are still aware of the weather and the seasons. We all know that a short, rainy winter day is less pleasant than a warm sunny June day. Most of us are cheered at the return of spring, and we mostly have certain pleasant or striking memories we associate with each season. My awareness of nature was at this relatively normal level until high school. I recall as an 8th grade student, that nature was wholly unappealing to me. I liked sports, music, comic books, stamp collecting, and whatnot. Trees were trees, grass was grass, flowers were flowers and weeds were weeds. But by the time I was in 10th grade, and especially 11th grade, I had been affected profoundly by nature awareness. I went from a normal worldview to one wherein the value of being aware of and appreciative of nature was a centerpiece. In retrospect, this was the pivotal transformation of my life. In high school I went from just another one of the guys into a person whose passion and livelihood became nature. The process was begun, I think, by my having read Thoreau's Walden. I did this because I was exhorted to do so by an influential 8th grade teacher, George Hofbauer. Walden affected me, as I was at that ripe, receptive, impressionable age. In turn I read other authors: Emerson, Goethe, Voltaire, Carlyle, Plato, Marcus Aurelius, Schopenhauer, Pascal, Montaigne, etc. A common theme in all the writings was the importance of nature, of calmly reflecting, and of thinking for oneself. Goethe wrote:
The thoughtful man's greatest comfort
is to have explored what can be known
and to worship the unfathomable quietly.
I began meditating under trees, listening to birds, tasting wild berries, and finding joy and excitement, meaning and...
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