The Meaning of Nature

When we think about that word ‘Nature,’ some of us may not have a clear understanding of its meaning. This is probably due to the idea that the word’s usage is bathed in many ambiguous shades of intent to begin with. Do you need to board a plane to get to this thing called Nature? Is it something ‘over there’ as opposed to nearby? We all say we want to ‘get back to Nature.’ How did we get away from it in the first place? Where is this Nature thingy, anyway? Does it have to be a place set aside by the Gub’ment in order to qualify?

As for me, I’m sitting in it right now, even though there are several degrees of protective separation between me and this thing. I’m wearing a contraceptive called ‘the city’ to keep me safe from the ravages of this beastly foe. A building of some sort will keep me shielded from Her powers most of the time, a car most of the rest. It’s the in-between times that I’m directly exposed to the elements. God forbid that it should start raining and I get caught out in the middle of it. I suppose I could call that ‘Getting back to Nature,’ but it feels lame to me. And I’m pretty sure that’s all I would be if I did ever find myself at Her mercy, exposed without protection of any sort – lame.

My distant ancestors would look upon my sorry, unprepared self and laugh themselves into a stupor at what I’ve become. No survival skills, no knowledge of what to do in this situation or that. No knowledge of where to go, or how to make it through the crisis to see another day. They would have seen said situation as just another run-of-the-mill moment to deal with.  For me, for us, we are all standing in the rain with our pants down.

But I’ve wandered off point. Nature is what the big yellow machines are carving up all over town, and the outskirts of town, right now. It’s where all kinds of wildlife used to call home. Nobody’s going to call it Nature, though. They’ll call it land development. They’ll label it as jobs, growth, progress, zoned construction, economic progress, etc., etc. It’s not Nature. Oh no…anything but that.

It’s not the rabbits, squirrels, birds, turtles, deer, beavers, foxes, frogs, coyotes, raccoons, possums, lizards, snakes, bugs, plants, trees, ground water, springs, lakes, and whatever else might have naturally occurred there before we re-purposed it to our own needs and wants. Nobody on any planning board is going to ask what will happen to all these ‘items’ I just mentioned, because they’re not important. They are part of a bureaucratic process to be taken care of so that everything proceeds on schedule and everyone on the payroll can get a check on time.

The trees and vegetation will very likely be bundled up into several nice neat piles and set ablaze. And nobody has any qualms about rerouting any natural flows of water. It’s one of the things we do best. Name any major river in the world that we haven’t dammed ten times, a hundred times over. Water management is one of our specialties. The huge piles of staged pipe of every color, dimension, material, and purpose will be manifest, no matter what the project, small, big, or massive. The water must either be piped in, piped out, or both.

As far as the living things are concerned, they are entirely on their own. Of this we can be quite certain. As I’ve asked before—what lives in a concrete jungle, anyway, besides us and our pets? We don’t have any time or space for the things that were here before a mall moved in, or a restaurant, or a bank. Even a park has little tolerance for the wild stuff.

A park is largely the same infrastructure as any other city project. There will be sports fields, swimming pools, manicured parking lots, and manicured green spaces. But to think that it will be home to any but the smallest percentage of these creatures on the list is, for the most part, pure folly.

A park is not a wild place. A park gets a trim and a haircut pretty much every day, in some form or fashion. A park is one of the tamest, most purposefully landscaped places you’ll ever encounter in a city. To think you’ll ever see any wild beast much beyond a squirrel is fantasy. Parks are an important component of any civic concern, and the massive expulsion of all living creatures is just a casualty of war.

Anything that does manage to survive for a while in our environs might just as likely be labeled a nuisance as not, and summarily handled by any of a number of ‘pest’ companies that make their money by taking care of other people’s varmint problems.

If you don’t see at least a dozen examples of road kill on even your short trips across town, then you’re not looking very hard. We’ll get ’em, all right, it’s just a matter of time, and odds. The bloody carnage is something we just accept as part of urban living. The squirrels play dodge with oncoming traffic, while the slow poke possums and turtles might as well have left with their affairs in order when they decided that crossing a road was a wise choice for their family. I wonder if anybody has ever done a study to see what kind of increase in road kill numbers takes place in the immediate aftermath, once a project fires up and things start getting ‘felled.’ I would venture to guess the stats would be astounding…for those who care enough about such things to be astounded.

So, yeah…my city’s Nature is getting carved up at breakneck speed, more people are moving in, more wildness is being driven out so that we can all have yet another place or three to park our fat asses and inhale some greasy fast food. Our diets are pathetic, our health is deplorable, our levels of exercise are despicable. Maybe another park is just the ticket.

Apologies to all the little varmints we’re running out of house and home. Hope you find a place to land, while you’re dodging the headlights and looking for a new wild place. Stay clear of the cats and dogs.

Getting rid of Nature on behalf of progress seems to fit in with this scene just fine. The problem is, we need Nature to survive as a species. In Part 2 of Where the Wild Things Aren’t, we’ll consider some of the consequences of unrestrained growth we are now up against.

Thank you, as always, for stopping by!