NEXUS – The disconnect in an ever-connected world

This semester I took a class called “American Nature Writers,” as one of our final projects we were asked to write a nature narrative.  I figured this was different than just a normal school assignment so here it is …

I walk along the base of a mountain looking for a place to cross the steel and barbed wire fence.  The fence is only four feet tall and I could get over it easily enough but I’m in no hurry so I continue to walk.  The long grass and wildflowers brush against my jeans at knee height. On my side of the fence is about a mile of sloped land which sinks beneath the milky blue water of Lago Argentino.  The color of the water is called “glacier milk,” and as the guide told us earlier in the day, the water gets its color from the glaciers scraping against the rock on the lake floor, stirring the sediment and giving the lake a cloudy look.  On the other side of the fence is a journey, an unseen, unknown wilderness waiting to be discovered.

I find a rock that sits close enough to the fence to allow me to jump from one side to the other without being caught in the barbed wire.  As soon as my feet hit the other side I’m in a world of my own. 

The hill is steep but I would have it no other way, the tougher the journey the more beautiful the view from the top.  As I make my way up the steep ravine with a small stream running down the middle.  I couldn’t help but wonder where the water began, not in the sense of H20 evaporating, raising to the specialized part of the atmosphere, condensing and latching onto other H2O molecules slowly forming droplets big enough to fall from the sky which then gathers on the ground, gravity takes it to the lowest point, the droplets once again joins with other droplets and form streams which turns to rivers which turn to lakes, bays, oceans etc., but more in the smaller sense of where this particular steam begins.  Is its source a spring, snow melt run-off, another lake or just simply from an unseen rain storm?

I walk along the stream, at times needing to use my hands to draw myself up, pulling myself from rock to rock, and jumping across the stream when the way looks easier on the other side.  I climbed and climbed, with a camera on my back as the only proof that I was actually there.  The steep hillside was bare of trees, but as the mountain tapered out on top the bushes and trees slowly began to get thicker and thicker.   The first tree I came upon was branchless and dead, the bark was smooth and windblown the only blemishes coming in the form of moss growing on the side.  The tree was leaning sideways and curled like the horn of a kudu antelope.

I sat above the tree looking at its shape, examining its colors and cracks.  The tree was old, it had to be, it stood about 20 feet tall and although it was dead it was clearly strong.

Patagonia is an amazingly beautiful place, tall mountains permanently capped with snow and ice, glaciers that creak and moan under the enormous weight on its back but never move fast enough for man to see.  Although I couldn’t see the glaciers move I wondered how many tons of ice the tree had seen splash into the milky water at its base.

As I continued to look at the tree I couldn’t help but wonder how much change that tree had seen.  The climate, the wildlife, the humans and the skies, so much change happens in what seems like such a short amount of time. One hundred years, easily the lifespan of a tree like this one has seen changes from horse and buggies to cars, space travel and instant communication with people on the other side of the world.  This tree must have been alive then … it looked like it had been dead for as long as I had been alive.

Alone, near the top of the hill, looking over one of the most beautiful places one can imagine I began to wonder, who is to say what is dead?  For a human or an animal it’s easy, when the heart stops beating it stops pumping oxygen to the brain which soon leads to the death of the mind and body, but what of plants like this?  Plants have no beating hearts you can feel to determine its state in life.  What makes this tree dead?  It still supports life, the moss that grows on it, the flowers that root themselves near its base to protect themselves from the wind, the Ojai Raptors that sit on top of the tree waiting for the field mice to make a run from its den.  The life this “dead” tree supports is potentially endless, so is it really dead?

The connection between nature and nature is so great that the connection between man and nature HAS to be equally as strong.  With the extinction of one species how many other species die off?  As humans expand their reign over the world what land is left for wildlife? What is left for man to explore? With the unobstructed, inexcusable rape of the world’s natural resources what is left for our escape?  Where will the individual’s pastoral challenge be found?

In a 2008 study, 76.9 percent of those questioned considered themselves part of nature … a vast majority of those studied considered natural environment as a place “absent of human interference,” (Price, The Distinction between Humans and Nature, p. 1). Is there such a place left?  Do the subjects involved in the study see the contradiction they place themselves in?  I’ve been fortunate in my travels, Africa, South America, Europe: I’ve been in the depths of suffocating rainforests, stood in the middle of barren deserts and ridden Poseidon’s waves, but I don’t think I can ever say I’ve been outside the reach of human interference.

Sitting at the base of this tree I see something indescribable, beauty so pure I can’t bear to leave … but at the same time I see death, I see the predicament placed upon me by the culture where infinity isn’t enough.  I see myself as Erysikhthon (ur i sik’ thon), the Thessalian king who cut down the goddess Demeter’s sacred grove so that he could build himself a grand and elaborate feast-hall, only to be punished by Demeter with an insatiable hunger, forcing him to spend his riches and when there was nothing left he devoured his own flesh.  Are humans not like Erysikhthon?  So hungry for more that we devour our own flesh?  Can Mother Nature not be Demeter, punishing man with floods, fires, drought, famine, earthquake and disease?

As I made my way down the mountain I was full of fear, fear for what man had done, fear that it might be too late, fear of my contribution and fear for the future.  As I made it back to the lodge I was disheartened and pessimistic, unable to see the light from the bottom of our self-dug grave.  But as I looked around what I saw gave me hope, birds soaring, sheep grazing their way across the field, calves playing in the pastures as their mothers ate and two puppies desperate for attention from whoever would oblige.  I realized, as bad as it had gotten, as dark as the future looked, life went on, nature didn’t stop trying and nor could I…

Price, Emily A. and Merrick, Melinda S. (2008). The Distinction Between Humans and Nature: Human Perceptions of Connectedness to Nature and Elements of the Natural and Unnatural. Human Ecology Review, Vol. 15, No. 1. Salt Lake City, Utah.


~ by chj48 on April 29, 2010.

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