"Why was not everything as it had been in my childhood?
As it was when we used to go down together to the sacred
spring in the valley--the one with the ever fresh greenery
about its clear waters, and the grains of sand so gently
stirred by the invisible finger of god?"
--Pär Lagerkvist, The Sibyl
(Recipient of the 1951 Nobel Prize for Literature)
"Do we need nature?" Perhaps the real question should be, "How is it possible that we even ask this question?" A woman dying in a hospital room in Seattle watches the sunset play on the mountains in the distance and begins to feel better. Doctors measure the changes in her and are amazed, until one of them notices her looking at the view. A small child in Sweden builds a troll house in wood and birch bark, using blueberries to draw a face on a princess, whose hair is made of strands of tiny yellow flowers. She is completely present in the moment, playing where the rocks rising out of the sea meet the forest. On the other side of the globe, twelve, no twenty, boys swim and jump and splash in the waves off the coast of Lombok. Their smiles are childhood, still intact.
In the Oriente region of Eastern Ecuador, a native tribe, which has lived in harmony with nature for centuries, is being displaced by oil companies. Their forests are being destroyed, and are irreplaceable. An entire way of life disappears, and little is done to stop it. People who know about natural medicines, plants found only in the Amazon which can help save human lives, are being displaced, forgetting their own traditions. Some of the world's oldest human beings, some of the healthiest, live in villages in the Andes. They never come down from the mountain, because down below is disease and pollution. They know enough to avoid it. We need to learn from them. We need to stop destroying the small amount of true nature we have left on the planet.
Human beings have learned to control nature, yet nature always surprises us. The more we imagine we know about how and why the seashell spirals, following the same musical pattern and fractions of Fibbonaci numbers, the less we realize we can ever really know about the "invisible finger of god". Nature lends itself to patterns, even in chaos.
Nature, bigger than we are, puts us in our place. Perhaps this is the most important argument for why we need nature, that it keeps us humble. We have forgotten to lose ourselves in wonder of our natural surroundings. Many of us now live so far removed from nature that it seems an unaffordable luxury. A child in central London asks his teacher if the milk bottles left on a front doorstep are a cow's nest. We do not know ourselves because we have lost, are losing, nature. Soon it seems, nature will lose us as well.
Man spends millions of dollars and hours of time trying to discover if water, and thus life, exists on Mars. Yet our own water, our "sacred springs", described by Lagerkvist, are disappearing, either through pollution, or into the private hands of those who prefer a profit to the responsibility which comes with the care-taking of a natural resource no human can live without.
Perhaps the question we should be asking is not, "Do we need nature?", but rather, "Do we need God?". Has humanity come to a point where our soul has lost its way in the midst of concrete and eternal noise? Can we hear the sound of the sea? Watch a baby as she turns her face to the wind, feeling it for the first time. Walk barefoot on the sand, each step a connection between inner and outer worlds. The calming effects of nature on our stressful lives has been measured and quantified. We are proving to ourselves that we not only need nature, but that, without it, we are somehow less human.
Even the cruelty found in the destruction caused by a hurricane, or the brutal reality of a stronger creature killing a weaker one, mirrors our human lives. Man is not so very different, acting in ways which are purely selfish, thinking of our own survival, at times, destroying all that surrounds us. Nature gives as it takes away. The forest fire allows for rebirth, the animals seek their own balance. Perhaps we are experiencing the calm before the storm. Nature will not be kind to us if we continue to take, forgetting to give back in equal amounts.
Have we reached the point of no return? Have we forever altered the balance in nature to such a degree that it can no longer reach an equilibrium? The thousands of years it takes for a swamp in Texas to produce crude oil is an evolutionary process we are now trying to speed up. A sea bridge from Denmark to Sweden forever alters the breeding waters of the fish who return there year after year, generation after generation. We force nature to serve our needs, but what about humans serving the needs of nature? It is a give and take, but for some time now, we have been taking and not giving much in return. This is a world out of balance.
It is not a question of less people on the planet, but rather how we go about living on Earth. The same people whose activities harm nature, are those who, in the end, protect themselves, using nature as a buffer from the world. Who owns the millions of acres in Montana, Patagonia, South Africa? A ranch, finca, hacienda, estancia, is a must for any millionaire or billionaire. Is he or she protecting nature by owning it, or are they simply protecting themselves? It seems that immediate profits from selling more cars, more air-conditioners, more refrigerators, are more important than teaching ourselves how to live with nature, to respect it, to avoid polluting it.
We need visionaries, those who can see and teach us about the importance of nature in the future of humanity. We need concerned scientists to use technology, our human brains, to protect nature. But nature must be the priority, not profits. If we keep abusing nature, there will be no profits. We need education to teach people that nature is our well-being, it is our survival. We sell a way of life across the globe, without taking into account the effects it will have on the planet. Perhaps we need to live more simply, slowing down instead of speeding up. We need to learn to breathe deeply, and be concerned that the air we are breathing is clean.
Large, multinationals have a huge responsibility in not only educating and developing new technologies to protect nature, but also in being at the forefront of a movement which makes nature a priority. How much do these companies give back to nature? How much do they give back to the countries where they find their oil, minerals, resources? What kind of education do they provide and how do they work together with governments and local people to protect nature?
We are, at once, of this human, man-made world, and natural beings. We have the power to shape the future of our planet, our common destiny. All of us must stop for a moment and reflect on what we are leaving behind for future generations. Increased asthma due to pollution, the extinction of animals as the waters become so unclean that no life can exist there, cracked earth from which no nourishment can be drawn...this is our reality. There is no way to shut our eyes to this. We must act now. We need nature more than ever before. And nature desperately needs us.
Stop for a moment. Every day, take time, five, ten minutes, and find a way to make nature part of your life. Walk down to the river flowing through your city and really take notice of the pollution. Notice the quality of the air around you. Walk barefoot on grass, or sand. Breathe deeply, float in a lake, bring your child into a forest to quietly discover animals, insects, or simply the changing of the seasons. Plant seeds, even in a window box, and watch them grow. Try to find a quiet place, where the wind rushing through the leaves is the only sound. Join an organization which helps bring children from the inner cities out into nature. Watch how water calms them, how happy they are at the seaside, or learning about a forest. Bring photos of mountains and the ocean to a friend who is sick, or take them out into a green park, to notice flowers, or even the leaves as they change colour. Watch as nature works its magic. Find time to leave the television, the automobile, the city behind, and wander through meadows, climb a sand dune, pick blueberries in the mountains. And be thankful that it is still possible. This luxury nature provides us, this great gift may no longer be there if we keep moving ahead at such an unnatural pace.
Nature should be a part of our everyday lives, not simply to be enjoyed during vacation. Even if it means simply sitting down on a bench by a river, or in a small park for a few moments each day, notice the effect nature has on your life. Swimming in the sea, or in a lake, watching the colors on the reeds near the shore as the sun sets, slows us down; calms us, invites us not to rush into the next thing. Nature puts it all in perspective. A broken heart can be healed, if only for a moment, before a mountain plunging into a deep blue fjord. The cycle of birth, life and death is natural. We must learn not so much to fear it, to avoid it, but to see all of it as part of being human. This respect for each part of nature, as it gives and takes, helps us to respect ourselves. We are one with nature and cannot exist for long separate from it. We must walk side by side with the natural world, knowing that it is another Ourselves.