The natural world’s near-ineffable indifference to the human species is something which, while useful as a piece of practical information, remains as a markedly unsettling notion for the human mind to initially conceive of; much less work with. It’s this sentient apathy of the living essence of the planet which both Snyder as well as Carson have struck upon within each of their works and, in consequence, prompted me to begin mulling over as I digest the precise means by which they each go about articulating their perspectives regarding it. While Carson utilizes her own respective background as a scientist to magnify the natural world to the degree to which the sheer magnitude of quantitative evidence regarding the systems of life which both explicitly and implicitly effect each other on earth renders humanity vastly less extraordinary than previously thought; Snyder meditates upon the happenings of the natural world which preceded humanity in a sort of quiet acknowledgment of our species’s relative lack of consequence in nature, and these sentiments both lend themselves to improving upon as well as further widening my perspective in relation to the natural world’s near un-consideration for human beings.
Not far into her book, Rachel Carson writes, “The new environmental health problems are multiple—created by radiation in all its forms, born of the never ending chemicals in which pesticides are a part, chemicals now pervading the world in which we live, acting upon us directly and indirectly, separately and collectively.” While at the surface this might seem less than indicative of the natural world’s apathy towards humans, however if one chooses to focus upon the fragment towards the end of the quote, this almost innate notion of omnipresence with regards to both the earth as well as all life which it inhabits is clearly present. While Rachel Carson may be talking specifically about those chemicals and pesticides which humanity has made use of and, as a result, been working with so as to bastardize the creation of organic life within nature; these manufactured chemical products which act directly upon the natural world are an imperative example of how one singular step in the wrong direction could spell disaster for humanity’s continued existence on earth; and it’s this exact larger-scale perspective which should always be taken into account by humans with regards to our place on earth.
Gary Snyder’s poem ‘What Happened Here Before’ from his collection, titled Turtle Island serves to illustrates a similar awareness of the utter vastness of the varying amounts of natural processes which occur regardless of humanity among the natural world. Snyder utilizes vivid imagery as well as metaphor and a strong amount of alliteration so as to go about communicating this point of relative indifference by nature in respect to humanity as a whole. Upon opening, the first lines read,
“First a sea: soft sands, muds, & marls/—loading, compressing, heating, crumpling, crushing, crystallizing, infiltrating/ several times lifted and submerged./”
Again, it’s the ends of these lines which speak the loudest to this point; the specific imagery of the phrase ‘several times lifted and submerged’ works to make me think about the processes which occur underneath the earth’s surface; at the floor of the ocean or when a volcanic eruption of some sort occurs. It’s these consistent larger-than-life activities of the earth which serve to first remind us that we do not control everything, and almost more importantly, that those processes which we do control, while somewhat consequential for both us as well as the earth, aren’t always the end-all-be-all, magical keys-to-the-universe which we so arrogantly like to assume upon a new scientific discovery or breakthrough of our own. Along with the litany of other verbs beforehand, ‘…compressing, heating, crumpling, crushing, crystallizing, infiltrating/’ both of these images call to mind a certain hierarchy, an order among the world; of which we should take care to remember: we were never at the top.
Later in the poem, a slightly more subtle yet equally as effective device makes itself known; a temporally-based metaphor which both through its description as well as through its consequence, allows for a more wholly-realized idea of how this poem works to improve one’s understanding of humanity’s relative irrelevance in the grand scheme of the natural landscape on earth. The line reads,
“Warm quiet centuries of rain/ make dark red tropic soils/ wear down two miles of surface,/”
What I previously meant by ‘its description’ refers to the ‘warm quiet centuries of rain’ which undeniably details the elongated period of time with which this rain is occurring, automatically forcing the reader’s perspective to widen; and what was intended by my phrase ‘its consequence’ is in reference to the later lines ‘make dark red tropic soils/ wear down two miles of surface/’ that inarguably illustrate the process of erosion over such a large period of time, that the surface is actually degraded by two whole miles from where it’s previous elevation lay. These lines serve to illustrate the sheer magnitude of all that which occurs on earth, completely regardless of humanity’s involvement with it.
How Snyder and Carson have struck upon these notions of largeness in comparison to humanity’s relative smallness, while potentially somewhat unsettling depending upon one’s previous perspective, have nonetheless allowed for me as a thinker; a certain amount of ease of tension, a sort of peace of mind. Because, while it’s important for humanity to have certain goals and purposes while alive, it’s also important for us to bear in mind; any pressure which we feel to be this great, hulking, top-of-the-food-chain apex predator of a species that can never hope to shy away from its role of necessity among nature as the only species to possess consciousness, is a somewhat self-inflicted endeavor. Because, while we do have defining characteristics which separate us from other animals, there are still things about us which are inarguably animalistic, as well as things which we do not maintain any dominion over whatsoever. Important things. Things which have always reminded us that our own self-proclaimed largeness can always be rescaled. It’s these things which I believe to be nature’s balancing act; earth’s discrepancy in biodiversity for our hubris with usage of pesticides; a century of rain for our ego; two miles of surface worn down for our mind.
The natural world has always worked in this sort of uncanny symbiosis, this back-and-forth, this principle of equivalent exchange. As an inherent part of nature, we should take care to remember that while we’d like to imagine ourselves as the ones meant to solve this problem, this conundrum, this seemingly impossible equation of purpose; there seems to be a great deal which is attempting to tell us: we’re merely another factor within it. And that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.