25 May 2021
On Harmony with Nature (final thoughts on Piglet)
From The Te of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff…
Thousands of years ago, man lived in harmony with the rest of the natural world. Through what we would today call Telepathy, he communicated with animals, plants, and other forms of life – none of which he considered “beneath” himself, only different with different jobs to perform. He worked side by side with earth angels and nature spirits, with whom he shared responsibility for taking care of the world.
The earth’s atmosphere was very different from what it is now, with a great deal more vegetation-supporting moisture. A tremendous variety of vegetable, fruit, seed, and grain food was available. Because of such a diet, and a lack of unnatural strain, human life span was many times longer than what it is today. The killing of animals for food or “sport” was unthinkable. Man lived at peace with himself and the various life forms, who he considered his teachers and friends.
But gradually at first, and then with increasing intensity, man’s Ego began to grow and assert itself. Finally, after it had caused many unpleasant incidents, the consensus was reached that man should go out into the world alone, to learn a necessary lesson The connections were broken. (13-14)
We are currently in the car, driving southward from Minot toward Horsethief Lake Campground in Custer State Park, SD – an old, old haunt from our newlywed days of yore.
While passing some reedy ponds at the outskirts of a farmer’s planted field, Brian said, “Well, if this isn’t some kind of bird sanctuary…” He trailed off, then came back again a moment later, “I mean, obviously, it’s not.”
As Brian said this, a white and grey gull hurdled down toward the surface of the water, and I watched with anticipation for him to snag a fish; he did not snag a fish. Instead, a cormorant’s jet-black head reached up like a mini prehistoric monster from the deep. The cormorant nipped at the gull in self-defense. Existential drama on an aviary scale.
Birds have always fascinated me. It’s funny – something happened at about the age of 30 and a light switched on: suddenly, I noticed birds. Certainly, they had been all around me prior to this time, yet I had been oblivious to them. It began when we lived with such a tree-rich yard in Alabama and I first witnessed the chest-thrumming hollow drum of a pileated woodpecker; thence it blossomed into a mild obsession. Since then, every time we move to a new locale, I purchase the local bird book to familiarize myself with the local species, always proffering seed feeders, nectar feeders, houses, and even baths – specially suited to the locals. Always well-maintained, my accommodations are quite popular with a variety of aviary friends.
But this piece was never intended to be about birds, specifically; they are merely a segue to a discussion about harmony with nature writ large. Although birds maintained prevalence, that interest did – and does – carry over to all of nature, from the waves of wind through the grass in the field outside my window at my father’s house to the baby bunnies in the abandoned barn on the lot across the street to camping to swimming and on and on…my interest in nature and empathy for all things natural is vast. So Brian’s pseudo-sanctuary brought to mind Hoff’s explanation of the world – of mankind – at the very beginning: pure harmony.
It’s interesting to me, this divide the Hoff describes between man and nature (which once were one and the same) is evident in my own perception of this planet, world, universe, existence – whatever you want to call it or however you want to frame it. Always have I felt an affinity for the natural world, and yet since childhood have I recognized my heartbreaking distinctness and separation from it.
For example, in seventh grade at Frankfurt International School, our grade went on an annual trip deep into the wilderness of Germany, along the Rhine River, where we went to Europa-Park, hiked, and rode gondolas to the top of a mountain. It was this mountain gondola ride that did it for me – it was that moment that stuck.
Out the scratched and grimy gondola window, the sloped mountainside was practically carpeted with hearty, well-nourished deciduous trees. The canopy was tufted like a soft, plush head of broccoli, and my fingers twitched, their pads tingled, to press in upon those supple boughs – as though they were made of down, wool, or cloud. It was a nature that beckoned. It was a nature seducing via visible love song.
The thing is – no matter how deeply I felt a need for that reunion, between me and nature, it was clear such unity was not feasible. Through my mind ran thoughts of being a part of all that mountainside represented, inhaling its fresh splendor, feeling the velvet of its leaves, partaking of that – communion. In my head, I envisioned my palms flat upon a tree’s craggy bark, pushing inward, to become a part of that tree, like two balls of mercury placed close together. But in reality, it was impossible! Even if I were able to teleport myself out of that gondola and down to those trees, what did it really mean, to partake of that majesty? What would “partaking” entail? What would it look like?
For certain, throughout my life, I have existed in nature: hiking, biking, camping, swimming, walking, kayaking, canoeing, etc. All of these things are marvelous, and they have such an important role in my life, however, none of them are being one with nature. In every case, for each of these activities listed, there is a component of human necessity bound to it. For example, hiking – gosh, even the activity itself implies activity and not simply just being – but with hiking, there are hiking boots, layers of clothes, mosquito repellent, sunblock, a first-aid kit, water, snacks, and more. Because humans are no longer part and parcel of our natural environment, we cannot exist within it without manmade creations; in fact, most of those creations serve specifically to separate us from our environment: think sunblock, bug repellent, clothes, shoes, hats – even RVs, tents, propane, solar power, jeesh!
Humans – or at least most humans – cannot be one with nature! Not anymore, anyway, if ever we could. What folly to think such a thing might be possible. I suppose the closest we can get is to skinny dip – but even then, we run out of the water, cold, for our towels and the warmth of a fireplace or shower. We cannot be comfortable in the natural world; there is nothing natural about us anymore, and that makes my heart bruisy and sore.
There is no resolution to this essay – this story – today. There may never be. But that does not mean cognitive dissonance will force my brain to disavow that draw for oneness with the natural world.