On Facebook, a friend of mine congratulated his brother Mike, who “built this Northern MN cabin for $4500, retired off the grid, collects rainwater from a roof irrigation system, eats berries, reads by candle light, catches trout & talks to the animals. He’s gone inside the world to grok its natural rhythms while the rest of us watch Netflix. Here’s to living life on one’s own terms.”
And I thought, that’s great. That’s really great. So, let’s say that’s on Monday. What’s Mike going to be doing on the next day, on Tuesday? My bet is: going batshit crazy.
Mike is entitled to do whatever he wants, so long as he isn’t, say, spending time in his hinterland chateau plotting to overthrow the government. But those of us who grew up in nature – who aren’t tourists who’ve moved there for some idealized bucolic existence – know that nature is more accurately not a place of “natural rhythms” where we can escape Netflix, but is more properly known as a place that swings wildly between being boring and deadly. Nature is a place filled with flying dusky things that like to bite or sting you, that either way want to eat a part of you. It’s a place where one wrong step plunges you into a sinkhole or crevasse you can’t get out of. It’s a place where if you’re not eating, something is eating you. It is also a place where it’s exceedingly hard to get a cold beer, let alone a roast beef sandwich or even a pillow. It’s a place where, when that glowing orb in the sky drops below the crestline, it becomes pretty hard to read, and the places to recharge your smartphone are scant. In short, nature sucks.
Oh, it’s fine to go there. As a tourist. Briefly. A week or two – or even a day (half a day!) – should suffice. Have at it! But when you get back to your campsite and hanker after that thing you forgot to pack – salt, or another book, or, my God, is there any water left in the cooler? — then you’ll remember all the reasons we as a people left this place behind millennia ago.
After our having spent thousands of years of trying to best it, to idealize it now is just stupid. It’s sentimental drivel. It’s not beautiful, and it’s not peaceful. It’s the ugly reality of striving after day-to-day existence.
Before you get the wrong idea, please be reassured that I love the rhinos. And the giraffes. And the lemurs and all those other things that live out there. I want them to survive. I want them to thrive! They may have these outdoors, now and forever. And I may want to visit them from time to time. But to live with them, to commune with them, seems to me to be like reducing myself to their circumstance. As they are without theatre, and music, and museums, and opera, and liquor stores, and cigar bars, and supermarkets, and 30% off sales at Macy’s, so would I be. This is antithetical to progress, and should hold no attraction for any of us.
I prefer to think of nature as this: Nature is the space between buildings. Because it’s the buildings that have made us into what we are.