Nature Notes - November 2021
– by James Inabinet
We are born into two distinct worlds. One, the built world, is peculiarly human, a world of culture and institutions. The other, the grown world, is the more-than-human world of beasts and birds, of rocks and trees, waves and storms.
We might say that the former is, in a sense, “under our control” (at least we like to believe that it is), while the latter is wild, uncontrolled. Why does there have to be two worlds? Why not just one?
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Most of us don’t feel at home in wild places in the same way we do among houses and lawns, roads and cars, boutiques and workplaces. For most of us, the wild world may a good place to visit, but not a place to live. Even as we may love the “idea” of being in nature, we don’t want to be importuned by it for too long, or too deeply.
In this important sense we are alienated from wild nature, and like aliens in a foreign land, we go into nature as strangers – then hurry “home.” Once safely returned to our houses, our longing to be in nature quickly returns. It’s like we long to be in nature when we’re out of it and hurry to get out once we’re in.
By contrast, my back yard is a forest. There’s less of a separation into “two worlds.” Over many years I have come to consider that forest a family member, or at least part of my home. You might say I have a wife, children, grandchildren, the gurgling spring at the big creek, the bluff camp, the swamp by the old broken still. These aren’t just places to go on my land, they’re extensions of my home.
Family seems more of a feeling than a genetic fact, less about blood relation than something felt. Because these places are extensions of my home, my family is there. When I’m hanging out in the woods, I don’t feel a need to hurry “back home.” I am home.
Perhaps grown nature and the built world are not so mutually exclusive after all. This forest – no alien world – is where my heart is, and it feels like peace. I do what I can, zealously, to protect it and keep it mostly wild, natural.
In this way, the two inherited worlds is a false inheritance. No either/or, it would be far better to have it all, to live in nature and be at home. If our human world of cars and houses, of concrete and steel is built, couldn’t we just as easily build our houses in and among growing meadows and forests? And not some lengthy journey from our homes, but as part of them, adjacent to them, a short walk away, or better yet, right outside our doors.
Imagine that, the call of the wild just outside our doors. It might not be for everyone, but how would anyone know whether or it’s for them or not, so few have tried? It’s foreign to our collective experience. Indeed, it would appear that the thrust of human culture is set against it, for everywhere we look we see the opposite: rub out growing nature and build.
How to even begin such a thing? Simply opening our homes to nature by allowing something of the wild to flourish in our homes, yards, and neighborhoods might be a way to begin – many of us do. That is a good start, but a better one would be to begin by doing ... nothing ... today!
The first step begins in our hearts. Before we do anything, there must be a feeling of being at home in nature – in any natural place. Everyone knows that home is a feeling.
Why do we feel the need to hurry home to our houses after our all-too-brief sojourns into nature? Part of it is that we simply aren’t very comfortable there. Our homes are made for comfort; it’s quite easy to be comfortable there.
In the woods there are no easy chairs with springs and cushions, no heat-pumped air, no screened-out bugs or walled-off snakes. I have found that extending the “home feeling” into the woods must be willed, especially at first, with a change in expectations, perhaps, and a change in attitude.
Culturally, we have become so inured to comfort that even a little discomfort has become intolerable. But every step towards comfort is really a step out of nature. To go further, every step into nature is a step into a communion of sorts. Isn’t that what we long for – and get – in our sojourns into nature: communion?
In my longing for communion with my forest home, I learned that I had to become comfortable outside in whatever nature had to offer in order to get past that initial sense of mild discomfort so that I might deepen – and deepen – feelings of sublime communion.
It’s too bad we are quick to leave both nature and its offer of communion. Perhaps we might start our project slowly, by allowing nature to become part of our homes and home-life, prefaced by a change in attitude and a willingness to be importuned in nature.
In this way we may become part of the wild family of plants and animals, bugs and mushrooms. This must begin with an intended connection so that communion might occur, and we mustn’t allow a little discomfort to get in the way. Then, perhaps, nature might become an extension of our homes as we grow that world into our homes, our yards, our neighborhoods.
Instead of two worlds there might become just one, a world where nature connection and communion are not so rare, where the wild may truly become home. Imagine that, the call of the wild right outside our doors.
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