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Why nature matters

Photo by Zach Dischner

Photo by Zach Dischner

It happens as we cruise through our 21st-century life, and it’s nobody’s fault in particular.

It happens while we spend eight hours a day in our brick office buildings, five days a week, most of a year;as we’re driving our air-conditioned vehicles down wide swaths of pavement flanked by stacks of apartment buildings and expanses of strip malls; while we’re having our teeth cleaned in sterile dentist offices; and as we stroll through the aisles of Whole Foods or Publix, filling our carts with sustenance as easily as picking a flower.

It happens as we hold glowing Xbox controllers in our hands, wiggling our thumbs to manipulate the movements of a digital human on our TV screens; while we recline in the plastic chair of a nail salon as another person paints our toenails; as we stare at a two-and-a-half hour movie about elves in a darkened, cinderblock theater; and as we sit at a conference room table with our co-workers, devoting 30 minutes of our lives to planning another such meeting.

It occurs as we zip across the country, 35,000 feet up in an aluminum and fiberglass tube with cold, strange-smelling oxygen pumped in for our benefit; while we wait impatiently for a microwave to finish scrambling the molecules of our cup ‘o soup; and as we watch intently, stretched out on our faux-leather couches, as an Alaskan man inspects his trapline during a Saturday marathon of “Mountain Men.”

If I’m being honest, it’s happening as I write these words and as you’re reading them.

We are losing a little bit more of our place in the natural world.

Most of us don’t care because we don’t think it affects us. We operate in a world of our own technological making, like the mother ship in the movie “Wall-E.” Nature equals the trees and rain we take occasional note of out our windows. Nature equals the lawns we buzz with our John Deere riding mowers before retreating back inside.

And that’s about it.

If we actually gave it even a smidgen of thought, we would be amazed at what’s going on out there. Amazed that large animals — some larger than us, even — are born, live, and die in the woods just outside our suburban homes. That each year, tiny hummingbirds and feather-light butterflies make epic, thousand-mile journeys to exotic, far off places, only to return to the exact Tennessee backyard the following season — without the benefit of GPS.

We would find it fascinating that each creature in this ecosystem consumes another and is, in turn, consumed by another. That with no technology at all and with no human assistance whatsoever, living things soar miles above the earth on thermal updrafts, swim at unthinkable depths in pure blackness, and construct intricate underground passageways and thoroughfares using their noses and feet as perfect tools. Comedies and tragedies that Shakespeare could only aspire to are daily played out in a square-foot patch of ground on a South Dakota prairie or a Louisiana bayou, likely never to be viewed by human eyes.

And what about those prairies and bayous? Or the extremes of the Rocky Mountains or the rolling Appalachians? Or the alien beauty hidden just beneath the surface of the Caribbean Sea, or even the vast gorges, wetlands, and waterfalls beyond the sight-lines of the interstate highways right here in Tennessee?

Sure, there are some unpleasant things outside. There are mosquitos, snakes, spiders, thorns, wasps, and horseflies. (I’m scratching at chigger bites as I type.) There are even cougars, bears, wolves, and coyotes, depending upon where you live. Maybe even Sasquatches and skunk apes.

That’s OK. I’m not suggesting you embark upon an exploration of the great outdoors buck-naked and without preparation. But as humans, we have been purposefully equipped with the intelligence to deal with these things.

In my view, people were placed upon this earth to be a part of nature, not apart from it. I believe that God expects us to appreciate its majesty, utilize its renewable resources wisely, and pass its treasures along to our children and grandchildren. It is our responsibility to serve as conscientious stewards of this, perhaps the greatest of His gifts, rather than to ignore it, keep it at arm’s length, and to leave its care to somebody else or to some government agency.

So, why does nature matter? You may have your own answer, but here’s mine:

Nature matters because it reminds us that there is something — or somebody — else infinitely more clever and creative than we. Man can make some pretty impressive things these days, but we still can’t make that.

While we often do our best to manipulate, circumvent, or hide it, nature nonetheless provides us with awe-inspiring beauty despite our best efforts, certainly not because of them. The only price of admission is acknowledgement and a little TLC, and that’s the least we can do.

So tomorrow, spend a little more time looking out rather than down. Devise a way to get yourself outside, if only for a few minutes more than usual.

And if you’re worried about mosquitoes, put on a little bug spray. I’ll bet that Mother Nature won’t hold it against you.

(Note: I’d love to hear why YOU believe nature does or doesn’t matter. Write it in the comment section!)

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15 Responses to “Why nature matters”

  1. Sandy (Ritchie) Yancy says:

    Reading this post from my front porch enjoying this little fall preview were having in Tennessee and planning our first family vacation to enjoy a taste of the Rockies next month.

    I’d say our perspectives are right in line.

  2. Frances Kern says:

    I live in California, where, as you well know, we are in a serious drought. The neighborhood where I live is an over-55 community, and truly lovely, every home showing pride of ownership. As I drive to and from my home, I see all the lawns that used to be brilliantly green and so immaculately cared for that now have been let die, and the first thought that comes to mind is how unsightly all that dead brown grass is. Then I raise my eyes and see that the crepe myrtles are in bloom in all of their different colors, each more glorious that the last. And that beyond the crepe myrtles are the gently undulating hills of Sonoma County and the bluest sky ever. I have four California redwoods in my backyard. If I ever forget about the incredible gifts nature gives us every day, all I have to do is look out my window at those majestic trees, soaring several hundred feet and probably older than I am at 77. You are so right. We need to get out there and LOOK before we completely forget how to look. Thank you for your beautifully written post, which brought tears to my eyes.

  3. Mark Johnson says:

    Thanks for your awesome comment, Frances! YOU brought tears to MY eyes! I’d love to see pictures of your redwood trees. I’m sure they’re amazing.

    • Frances Kern says:

      Here is the complete poem, a part of which Kathy Helmers sent to you as a comment, and which I had never read before. Thanks, Kathy!

      . God’s Grandeur

      THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
      It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
      It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
      Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
      Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
      And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
      And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
      Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

      And for all this, nature is never spent;
      There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
      And though the last lights off the black West went
      Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
      Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
      World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

  4. I absolutely love this! LOVE! Thank you. 🙂

  5. Jim Buck says:

    I remember several years ago when I owned beagle hounds and loved to rabbit hunt……looking back, the highlight wasn’t the kill but the outdoor experience. One late winter afternoon, I had my three dogs {Ace, Deuce and Trey} up at the head of the Valley of the Three Forks of Wolf River. I was hunting alone in this 40 acre field nestled between two large mountains with steep rock bluffs overwatching my every move. There was a “nip” in the air and my dogs had just struck a rabbit’s trail and their barking was echoing throughout the valley. A hawk perched high in a dead pine tree near me began to screech out his disapproval of all the intruders which added to this glorious sound. At that moment it began snowing……………the largest, fluffiest snow flakes I can ever remember. I sat down in the middle of this Norman Rockwell atmosphere and thought to myself “It Don’t Get Any Better Than This!”

  6. Kathy Helmers says:

    Because, in the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins:

    THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God. . . .

    Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
    Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

    And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
    And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
    Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

  7. Tara says:

    As always you’ve expressed my thoughts better than I can. Thank you for your well written and thoughtful post. I’m a biologist and in my previous job worked outside daily from May to October studying salt marshes. Just as you point out, nature matters in the most grand and the most miniscule ways. From the air we breathe to the balance of microbes in our soil. Every day I spent outside (and even of course now that I am inside more than not), made me appreciate the wonder and balance of nature. It was humbling, inspiring, motivating, thought-provoking and sometimes brought me to tears with its beauty and awesomeness.

    • Mark Johnson says:

      Wow, Tara, I’m humbled by your comment. I think you can express your own thoughts just fine! You’ve inspired me to write some additional posts about nature and the great outdoors. Stay tuned!

  8. john foster says:

    So right on Mark. As a boy and young man, I was drawn to the outdoors. Every day was an adventure. I also admit that with marriage, finances, home responsibilities, etc……I have severely neglected my inner Thoreau. This is likely the nudge I’ve needed. J Foster

  9. karenrsanderson says:

    I remember, a couple decades ago, when I started to bike, a lot. I biked to work, I biked on weekends, I biked in events. And every time, I would see things that I never saw (passing the same house, street, park) as I was buzzing by in the car. I still take the time to actually stop and smell a rose. To marvel at a beautiful sunrise or sunset. To use both feet and jump in a puddle.

Let me hear from you!

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