Self-employment can be a harrowing way to live, but I’ve done it for ten years and I’m usually very happy with it. That arrangement has allowed me to live this strange but satisfying life where I can spend my mornings and evenings at a wilderness pond, and the rest of the time working. But it can be jarring to be with the turtles and the beavers and the herons in the morning, and then by noon be in a busy cross street downtown. I spend a lot of time shifting between two worlds, two mindsets, two types of work, and it gets dizzying sometimes.
Part of me admires this modern world humans have created, with its Byzantine complexities and its cures for illness and its creature comforts. I’m less crazy about what seems to have come with it — a shortage of empathy and jobs, a disdain for those not like us in opinion or appearance, the appeals to our worst instincts in order to maintain the enrichment of the powerful, and a kind of invasive sameness.
But while I’m drawn to the natural world, I can’t and don’t look at it as a counterpoint to the hardships of the human world, because the human world is a natural world. We are just as much of nature as the grizzly or the green heron. But the human world is dominant, and becoming more so every day, which is what leads us to feel that it’s somehow opposed to the non-human “natural” world, and why so many nature lovers tend to devalue the first and idealize the second. But the natural world itself is full of cruelties and disappointments that can’t be whitewashed. This morning I saw a baby turtle crushed on the ground. Had it not been so, a raccoon or coyote might just as easily have picked it off.
Of course, I’m not saying we shouldn’t grieve over dead baby turtles; I do, and intend to continue. And that’s my point, in a way. There’s nothing inherently bad or toxic about humanity. Only humans are capable of grieving, in however small a way, the death of an infant animal so unconnected to us by biology, genetics or experience. And that’s where the paradox is. The same capacities we’ve developed that set us apart from the rest of the natural world — like grief on the one hand and greed on the other — are the ones that allow us both to destroy the natural world, and — or — to preserve it.