Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Nature and Man

I went to the creek and on it rushed, oblivious to my existence. The water flowed with determination: I must move, I must fall over this rock, I must wait in this pool until I can go go go. The rock across this creek leaned over, full of strata and thus memory. It has felt the creek for thousands of years as the water has come and gone and worn down the stone, imperceptibly to human eye (though not to human imagination). Thirty feet away birds are awaking with the dawn and squawk: good morning, or stay away from my morning breakfast, or maybe just a good, Hey You! Three female mallard birds land in creek. Their brown and gray forms blend into the rock as they scoot through the water. I sit in this small bend of a small creek apart and a part of nature.

I am apart because I am man, and I can create these distinctions called nature and name the birds and the rock and put myself in a proper place in relation to the to the tadpoles swimming and the pine trees and the deer drinking. My naming and categorizing abstracts the action before me. The movement of the water is part of gravity and the “water cycle.” The rock face, in its stubbornness, may be read by educated eyes to deduce the story of erosion and movement. I sit on a picnic table, created by others (but by humans!) and it doesn’t belong to this scene. Nor should the grass it rests upon be this short, so unnaturally mowed.

Yet, of course, I am a part of nature because I am man. I am a species in genus. I am in relation to these birds that sing and the water that flows, always finding a way down. Nature includes man, and it includes me. Sure, I can alter the landscape and block a creek and create a small lake. But so could an industrious beaver. My decisions, though more altering than other species, may affect nature, but they do not change the fact that I have a relationship to the earth and its inhabitants. This interaction of all species creates change in nature, for the very definition of nature is change in the context of relationship between the land and fire and water and air. The pine bark beetle destroys millions of trees as it fulfills its purpose, and that is nature. It is only in our arrogance to we think that we control nature. That what we alter we can bring back to some perfect state.

It is a quest for Eden, for the perfect place where all beings where in harmony and man was not present. But remember Tennyson, harmony exists only in “nature, red in tooth and claw.”


  1. Are you turning into Annie Dillard out there in the woods? Where are you? I am jealous of a location I am unaware of...

  2. In short: in a cabin in the woods of the Black Hills.