Monday Rant on Nature Writing

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By Dave Coulter

Rough Edges

I’ll admit that I have been casting about for topics to write about during this inter-seasonal limbo we’re in.  Oh, let’s be honest.  That’s just an excuse for laziness.  In truth, I try to keep a running log of potential subjects at hand for times just like this.   I could have easily consulted said list - and written something chatty about tomatoes - but I think a suitable subject finally presented itself.

I almost titled this piece, “How So Much Nature Writing is Rubbish” but that’s a bit harsh, and I really don’t believe it anyway.   So rather than dissect this further I’ll just jump in.  It all started with a nature essay I started to read the other day.  I didn’t finish it.  But I did skim it, and I believe I was correct to sidestep it.   The non-fiction piece was written by a man who ventured on a kayak trip, and encountered native peoples, etc.  It was one of those from the Deep Thoughts school of nature essays, which I’m getting increasingly impatient with.    

(I should stop right here and note that I have certainly stumbled into that school as well.  I should also note the possibility that maybe I’m getting impatient with my own writing.  Aren’t you glad you’re reading this blog today?)   Anyway, I’m not going to pick on the author.  In fact, I should tip my cap to him for getting attention and getting his work in print.   I’ve learned that I like my nature writing the way I like my Olympics on television: which means please, just give me the event, not the whole life story of what the athlete did to get into the race.   

But back to the kayak-y essay.  Maybe I should know better than to ask this question but does anyone alive today not know that North American indigenous cultures were wiped out by five centuries of immigration from everywhere else?  I mean, what are we supposed to do with this knowledge?  And what do I care that some guy is getting misty-eyed at the sight of a 21st century teepee as he paddles around in his 21st century kayak?

Haven’t we all come to learn that we’re all from somewhere else anyway?  What the heck does indigenous mean anymore?  I was here first, and therefore have a superior claim to the Earth Wisdom of This Place?   Oy vey.  

But also last week I read another nature essay that gave me hope for the art form.   It was an old article written by the biologist E.O. Wilson, and it was about ants.   More to the point, it was about how some species of ants kidnap and enslave other species.  Sounds boring, but not with E.O. Wilson behind the pen.   He’s a scientist, and the story is documented with a minimum of Deep Thought moments.  The tale is fascinating all by itself.  Wilson, who is more than capable of deep thinking, lets the ants do the talking.  

Speaking of nature, big-scale nature that is, there was a big earthquake and big tsunami late last week in Japan.   Don’t think it doesn’t occur to me how picayune the preceding complaints are in the wake of such destruction.   If that all wasn’t enough, the Japanese now have a handful of nuclear power plants that are twitchy, or worse.   If we learned anything from Chernobyl, we learned that the radioactivity emitted in these moments tend to become a global concern.   As I type this the U.S. Navy has pulled it’s ships a tad further away from the Japanese coast.   (Now there’s a group that surely knows a little something about avoiding radiation).

This tragedy, still unfolding, will renew the debate about nuclear energy once again.  Debate is a good thing.  James Lovelock,  the creator of the Gaia theory of ecology - and a scientist who feels we’ve already pretty much lost the global warming battle - is a fan of nuclear energy.  He has posited that in spite of whatever casualties may occur from potential nuclear accidents society is probably safer in the long run rather than continuing to depend on the carbon-based energy sources.  

In that spirit I will hope that future indigenous peoples will rely on their innate Earth Wisdom and not locate new nuke plants so close to Mother Earth's active fault lines. Alternative energy forms are looking better all the time. And the twenty-first century meets the 1970’s.  

Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.  -  Will Durant    

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