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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Back to Nature

I always liked the idea of Nature. I knew it was, indeed, a good thing, as in "all-natural".

But that was all theory, not experience. I am, by temperament, an "indoorsman". If I had the financial wherewithal (and my wife would not divorce me), I would cover my entire back yard with Trex decking.

So I recently decided to start hiking and become more acquainted with Nature.  Also, I have been changing my eating habits (to eat like a French Woman), including a lot more fruits and vegetables, and eating more "mindfully" or "consciously" or "not like a pig".

So I bought some groceries that were not only "all-natural" but "organic" -- which I understand to mean "really, really, natural". The apples were surprisingly tasty, a more flowery, complex flavor than the pesticide-covered ones I normally eat.  Apparently having been accosted by writhing insects adds flavor, perhaps Darwiningly stimulating the fruit to have a thicker, and therefore more substantial and nutrient-rich skin, to defend itself.

I also like the Stonyfield Farm organic yogurt (full-fat version), not because its organic, I admit, but because of the delicious layer of cream that sits on top. And the organic eggs have a sunny orange-red yolk, and a pleasantly rich, sulfured flavor not found in the Brave New World cloned mutant eggs I have been eating for years.

The hiking part came about, like most things in my life, based on my reading. I enjoy essays by Robert Hoagland, considered by many to be one of the best naturalist essayists in the US. Also, I have long been a fan of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Cormac McCarthy, Ernest Hemingway and especially Jim Harrison, who writes of the outdoors like a picaresque version of the more heroic Hemingway (For example, Hemingway would write a story about how the hunter drank and drank well and then faced the lion, who was true and good and strong just as the hunter was true and good and strong. etc... while Jim Harrison would write about how the hunter drank, then became mesmerized by the garlic rosemary roasted chicken served at the bar, and then left the bar at 2AM with the buxom barmaid and would awake in a field the next morning to describe how the sun danced across the tiny hairs at the small of the barmaid's bare back while a woodcock sang in the distance etc... you get the idea...)

I went on my "hike".  It was in a two-acre sized patch of woods between two suburban developments. I "hiked" for about an hour. There was a stream (i.e. a drainage ditch) running through it. I know those of you who are more into braving the elements are snickering and daring me to type "hiked" without the self-deprecatory scare quotes. But for me, traipsing around on unpaved, uneven muddy ground in 25 degree cold was like leading a sled team in the Iditarod.

What I learned? Nature is a mess! Broken branches as thick as my arm (that likely snapped off the trees during a surprise October snowstorm) littered the path, crossing the stream like pick-up-sticks, and lying over fallen leaves and twigs. Along with that mess were empty cans of energy drinks and empty mini-bottles of Skyy vodka , a plastic milk crate, and McDonald's wrappers, the "natural" leavings of the surrounding suburbanites (or their high school age children...)

It occurred to me that people are part of nature too. Like the trees, we shed stuff when we don't need it anymore, and pretty much let it drop it wherever we want. The difference is, unlike leaves and branches, ours  takes 100,000 years to disintegrate. And may give us cancer.

And despite this, "nature" is just fine - if we make our own nest uninhabitable, nature will continue on her merry way, on her own time, and sweep us away like other extinct species such as the brontosaurus, the do-do bird, and tattoo-free thirty-year old women.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said “You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity.”  
In the past, I always dutifully shouted "Booo!" when some allegedly evil corporation was refining petroleum, manufacturing chemicals, or stripping away forests to provide the cheap, plentiful, and entertaining consumer goods that I love so much, while ignoring the complicity of my own desires in this seductively invisible supply chain.

I am now seeing that "Nature" is this thing that I should, indeed, "get back to"....


  1. Love this post, Dave! happy you have found nature even if marginally squeezed between the burbs. I was at the mall yesterday. I never go (so different from my high school days when it was so cool to go to the mall). I felt like I was on a different planet. There were so many people...everywhere. If you would have not told me the date, I would have sworn it was 12.24. Who knows there is an economic crisis going on? Not the people at the mall! It was a long overdue promise to my son to take him to Build a Bear workshop...another maddening world of stuff and fluff...the outfits, the sounds, the hearts...crazy. makes my kids happy (and it was a promise). We waited in a 15 minute line to stuff a fox and bear! I thought I went cheap, but almost $60 later, we were out of there. Yes, I contributed to the madness yesterday feeling a bit guilty. But, again my own kids joy and non-stop playing with the silly stuffed animals has brought me joy too. Anyway, I realized in all this craziness that shopping indoors on a cold, but beautiful day is what "we" do. It gives us a purpose. If only we all had a more collective purpose to get outside, smell the fresh air, take in the sun, hike a bit, pick up trash and maybe even hug a tree...or maybe that is going a bit too far!

  2. Another great post, Dave! I spent countless hours exploring the Delaware Water Gap and ultimately was inspired to move to Colorado in search of more of the natural. I can provide you with info on some wonderful hikes in the Water Gap if you feel inspired to branch out.

    “And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.” W. Shakespeare

  3. @Bonnie- thanks for reading! I struggle with the fact that my kids play with maybe 10-15% of the stuff I get them...

    @Bob- I really appreciate your comments and readership - by all means, please email me your hiking recommendations (should I buy a flare pistol? ;-)