Saturday, June 19, 2010


When I was a nature lover I desperately wanted to talk to animals. I wore my heart on my sleeve. I read poetry by Wordsworth and Rumi. I hugged trees. I thought birds sang love songs. I drew moral lessons from the life cycle of a butterfly. I believed in magic — in the enchanted forests. I took admonishments about having a relationship to nature seriously. I went out in nature. I communed with nature. I sought romance and adventure in nature. And I felt betrayed when my love wasn't returned — if my heart didn't bleed my finger did. ("It bit me!")

Eventually most of us grow out of being ga-ga and head-over-heels. I did. First, I discovered the theory of evolution. Then, I began to recognize that I was being held captive by my own ignorance, enthralled by other people's idealism and duped by my own imagination.

Nature lovers bash science. I recently read a book that promised to "help the reader explore and enhance the psychological and spiritual dimensions of your life." This was to be accomplished by "communing with nature." In such a pursuit, scientific inquiry is inadequate said the author. Furthermore, scientific inquiry may actually lead to "separation from nature." Imagine that.

A few years back I was with a small gathering in Northern New Mexico of so-called ecopsychologists. The group included, as I remember, a neo-luddite, a deep-ecologist, a direct descendant of Thomas Huxley, a permiculturist, and a friend of mine that I had invited who is an evolutionary biologist and an academic. I'll call him The Scientist. At one point in the discussion the deep ecologist turned to The Scientist and said, "The trouble with you scientists is that you destroy the enchantment." The Scientist pondered that for a moment and then said, "I study the reproductive behavior of a particular species of spider, a small population in Northern Montana. Every summer for 20 years I've gone up there with some students. And every summer for 20 years I've returned with my mind completely blown by new stuff that I've learned about what this nervous system the size of a pin head accomplishes. I'm enchanted." Later the Huxley guy said something outrageous, and The Scientist said, "Well, it's obvious you know nothing about evolution." I had to snicker; he said that to the great grand-nephew of Darwin's bulldog.

Like lovers everywhere, lovers of nature hang on to ignorance, fantasy, and mystery. Eventually, if they still care about the relationship, they have to deal with the hard work of intimacy. This requires, among other things, knowledge, patience and commitment. But lovers, as long as they can, seem to prefer mystery to enlightenment. The irony is that very passionate lovers of nature are often the well educated and the literary.

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