As we sat in one of the five Starbucks in our small town, discussing issues of politics, art, and religion, (it would later be remarked how very European it all was) the natural world entered into the conversation. Specifically, a recent naturalist's thesis which posits that humanity is "losing its connection" with Nature. I got a little distracted when I realized that Starbucks had switched from carrying Odwalla to Naked overpriced health juices, but I think the gist of his argument what that there are fewer and fewer vacant lots for kids to play in.
Naturally, somebody cut to the heart of the issue.
"What does that even mean? What constitutes a connection with Nature?"
We were running out of time, and we hadn't spent any money whatsoever (now that's European!) so we ended up leaving before putting any kind of point on it. The closest we came was when someone put forth that there may be something meditative to the connection, something therapeutic. People who are connected to Nature turn to her for some kind of spiritual renewal. I've thrown it out to a few others, and (perhaps to put an end to the conversation) they seem to agree with that reduction rather readily. Someone very smart even brought up Emily Dickinson, for whom Nature took the form of her religion ("some keep their Sabbath going to church"--etc.)
But this is, without a doubt, too facile, if not a total cop out. It is proof that the question itself is uncomfortable--especially for people who consider themselves "in touch" with nature. Because if to answer the question ("what constitutes a connection with Nature"), you have to resort to something outside the scope of the subject of the question ("spirituality"), then your answer is that you have no answer. I cannot find a definition of Nature that even implies that it has anything to do with the spiritual essence of the creatures that inhabit it.
Let me admit that people who resort to Nature for a renewal of some kind, or who draw meditative calm from its wild places--these are my kind of people. But do we who love the great outdoors, who live in remote places so as to avoid the excesses of urbanization really have a greater "connection" to Nature? Can we claim such if we can't even really define what that means?
So, though I was at first offended when the heir to the Unabomber proclaimed that we are losing touch, I am now ready to take his argument a step further. We are not losing touch, we've lost it already. We lost it thousands of years ago. We might never have been in touch. We might not be meant to--except in the spiritual, meditative, caretaking way we have invented for ourselves. How do you like them apples?
Consider . . .
*Humans all over the world are warm when it is cold outside, and cool when it gets hot. We've been fighting it since forever. (Don't listen to losers who claim to not believe in air conditioning. When it gets into the triple digits, they believe. All of them.) From the moment the first of our kind decided to wear the remains of the animal he'd just eaten, we were out of touch. We didn't need to evolve blubber or body hair (Burt Reynolds excluded) or migrate long distances to avoid the cold. We were out of touch with the seasons of the earth.
*We are the only creatures I can think of who don't void the contents of their bladder or bowel all over the place. Except on the streets of Paris, France, we've stopped participating in the idea of randomly returning to Earth that which we have eaten. We even demand the same from the animals we have domesticated. The moment you suppress the urge to go--even for a second--you've lost touch.
*The rest of Nature's children have only 2 real interests, which are, in order: 1) the next meal; and 2) the next mate. I was about to posit that we have interests beyond food and sex. But come to think of it, in this sense we are very much in touch with Nature. There might be a rare exception here and there, of course. We're only human. But hooray for all of you gluttons, sluts, nymphomaniacs and ultrasexuals: in this one respect, you do not fall under the indictment of the so-called Naturalists.
*That said, we are almost alone in our constant preoccupation with and use of sex for some purpose other than reproduction. The entire existence of almost every other creature is centered on reproduction. We on the other hand have a never ending line of products and procedures to ensure that we can have sex more often than rabbits without the horrible side effect of actually having to deal with the most natural result of that act. Nature made it pleasurable so we would want to do it. We looked her in the face and said: Look, we'll do it like dogs in heat, we'll even call it a "reproductive" act, but we will tear that little nightmare out with a vacuum before we'll compromise our freedom, job, or wardrobe. If you believe in birth control like I do, admit to being WAY out of touch with Nature.
*We do not know where our food comes from. Noted naturalist Jason Adair would disagree that this constitutes a disconnect. (The only explanation for this stance is that he is heavily invested in McDonald's and its parent and subsidiary corporations.) I don't care if you know that the egg came from a chicken. Obviously any dumb-ass knows that. And only a dumb-ass would use that as proof that humans are connected in any way with nature through their food. We have taken the second most fundamentally natural act, namely, food consumption, and turned it into a pre-packaged jaunt down the aisles of a sterile, air conditioned supermarket. And you and I both think that is just great, or we'd be scavenging around the wilderness for whatever is in season, or sucking the blood from our fresh kill, or at least gardening.
So please join with me in seeking [un]natural spiritual renewal through Nature's gorgeous green places. Appreciate unspoiled wilderness. (You can even read Wordsworth and agree with him that people who don't are "dull of soul.") Please love your fellow creatures and preserve their habitats. You can even make Nature your religion, or at least part of it (if it isn't, then your religion is totally screwed up). But let's hunker down and admit that you and I are observing from the outside. And have been since we could be called Human. And there is nothing wrong with that.