Day 66 of opening the door & going outside everyday…when suddenly it occurs to ask: What is “nature” anyway?
You may already have some absolute answers. You may gesture towards everything non-human such as trees, bushes, snow, wind, deer, ladybugs, feathers, plants and sunlight. “There,” you say, spreading your arms out wide, “that is nature!” End of story?
Perhaps. Yet I’ve noticed that the edges get mighty blurry. The first example that popped into my thoughts concerned the cup of tea sitting before the computer. The tea grew on a plant somewhere. Was that tea plant “nature”? Or, because it was farmed and cultivated, should it be considered something apart from nature? The ceramic cup? Is pottery part of nature, or a human invention?
Let’s say we’re walking together in the woods and discover a wooden ladder resting upon a tree. Nature? Is it part of nature, or alien to it? Could it be something in-between? Nature AND human?
If a piece of our human hair falls to the soil, is it now nature or is it trash? If we write a love letter to the earth and bury it beneath a stone, what are the wishes of our heart? Rubbish or art? Gift? Now a part of nature?
We humans so often want to categorize, to label. We want to deftly and assuredly define boundaries. Wikipedia discusses this topic attempting to scientifically analyze it. Example: Manufactured objects and human interaction generally are not considered part of nature unless qualified in ways such as “human nature” or “the whole of nature”.
Also this summary: This more traditional concept of natural things which can still be found today implies a distinction between the natural and the artificial, with the latter being understood as that which has been brought into being by a human consciousness or a human mind.
Hmmm. OK. So we humans are not considered part of nature? Double Hmmm. Are we separating ourselves from the “natural” world as if we’re somehow different, special, privileged, better, worse? This type of thinking might help quantify or qualify some concepts, but I believe it also constructs some false barriers between ourselves and the natural world.
A seashell? The home of a scallop? Natural. A wigwam in the woods? Artificial. Even though it’s made of bent willow, birch bark, branches, bear skin, cedar, natural ties? A green natural sustainable home in the woods?
What about our compost? The scraps we feed to the deer? What about art we create out of all natural earth components? Is a carrot in the garden artificial if we’ve bought seeds in town? What about a sleigh-ride behind a horse? Nature or human or some combination in between? An apple seed planted by Johnny Appleseed…is the tree part of nature or separate from it?
I’ve posted this photo before, but really must post it again for your consideration:
I’m sorry (well, not really sorry) to admit that the distinctions between “nature” and “human” are very blurry and indistinct to me. Those potted plants in the corner seem both very natural and cultivated. Even this computer links back to elements, soil, water, and sunlight.
What might happen if we cease to draw such a hard distinction between what is nature and what is not? Would our appreciation for it deepen or lessen? What if we started seeing nature in everything we view? Might we not want to honor it even more?