03 October 2009

(Wo)Man versus Nature

According to a recent study, exposure to nature actually makes us better people. (Which could serve as reason number 342 to move to Seattle, a cosmopolitan city offering all the urban comforts I've come to consider crucial, but ringed with majestic mountains and glittering water on nearly all sides: I'll be a better person for living there!)

The study posits that thinking about things wrought by humans makes us hungrier for self-betterment, while thinking about things wrought by Nature makes us community- and relationship-minded, more focused on how to better society.

Makes sense. Is it any wonder that when we're forced to contemplate human-made structures, we tend to value fame and wealth? Probably as a means to either dominate or escape such structures. Pass a skyscraper and thoughts meander to how much you'd have to earn to have a corner office. Stare at a dump of an inadvertently Brutalist apartment block (tell me, at what point did the world's developers feel ok adopting a Modus Operendi of "As Cheap and as Ugly as Possible?) long enough and you either want to tear it down or have the funds to move to the fancy side of town/penthouse apartment/ocean view rooms.

Maybe this explains why my mom gets so stressed out every time she leaves her small Midwestern hometown to visit us in The Big City. Instead of contemplating how much rain her neighbors will need for the corn to grow tall this summer,

she's left thinking about concrete and steel and the millions of cars clogging the roads with their faceless drivers trudging off to boring jobs kept for the sole purpose of paying the bills that allow them to live in their massive McMansions. Which is pretty alienating when you stop to think about it.

No wonder she's never in a huge hurry to get here.

Maybe nature ignites what Freud called the "oceanic" feeling, that feeling of being a tiny speck in an immense universe. When we're small and at the mercy of the weather and the waves and the winds and all those other forces we can't control, we appreciate the help of other people. Instead of wishing they'd just collect their trash already and disappear.

Now I better understand what my father means when he describes a landscape as "decadent". I always associated this word solely with self-indulgence, but the word's other definition - Being in a state of decline or decay - tells another story. When the elements (heat, humidity, cold, etc.) are left unchecked, nature takes over. You can fight the good fight with the lawnmower and the sealant and the like, but the moment you turn your back on the battle, it wins. Paint chips and fades. Rust corrodes metal. Weeds choke open spaces. What we wrought begins to be rubbed out and our creations soften, blur, become Impressionistic.

Which is sometimes more beautiful, if you ask me.


  1. you moving to Seattle???? :P

  2. Oh you're right, nature does NOT kid around. I went to New Orleans for a shoot in 2007 which was of course 2 years after Katrina and I was amazed to see nature kicking some ass. We went down to the lower 9th ward and much of what was abandoned was already so grown over and greened that it appeared earth was literally taking those lots of land back. Some mighty fine beauty in the midst of the sad sights.

  3. @ Janefilms: Funny you should mention New Orleans! That is where I first fell in love with the way nature steals back from civilization. I think I love that process all the more for how slightly terrifying it is.

  4. I love that sign. Nature will always win if we give her enough time. And in the end, she will take the time whether we give it to her or not.

  5. Well said Mrs. I'm that weird guy who chuckles to himself at the end of 'Escape from LA'. When Snake Pliskin flips a switch and shuts down all things electric on the planet. The thought of all of us having to become one with Nature out of necessity is one that gives me a sick pleasure. Weird for a technophile, I know...