My car lifts me lightly off my seat as I turn the wheels off of the smooth pavement and onto a dirt road. I roll down my window, letting the wind rush in and stir my hair until I disappear behind a curtain of forest. Behind the curtain, a chorus of crickets sing, only quieting when the soft crackle of rocks beneath my tires comes closer. After passing a vacant pond, the road narrows, and I begin climbing up a steep incline. Winding up the hill in a sort of zigzag formation, I am now deep in a tunnel of green. Tree branches lean over and shake hands above my head. Streams flow past me on either side, beer cans embedded in the soft mud. Moving up the hill with ease, I stop for a moment to let a family of turkeys cross the road, and watch as they settle into a field of ferns beneath a canopy of tall maples. I start driving again, moving up the final stretch of road that’s bordered by sap lines and rock walls, and then I see it in the distance: a log house, nestled in the woods of Vermont.
I grew up on Wildlife Road — a sanctuary — where the closest sign of commercial life is 20 minutes away. I grew up in the woods, with dirt between my toes, burdock on my clothes, and flowers in my hair. I remember running through the woods at my brothers’ heels, collecting all the wildflowers my small arms could handle. I remember snowshoeing alongside deer tracks with my mom, a thermos of hot chocolate in my hands.
I often wonder who I would be if I had been brought up anywhere but here. How would I have turned out if my childhood memories were composed of concrete and suburbia? If I wasn’t immersed in nature my whole adolescence, would I be as in love with nature as I am today?
In class this past week, Professor Long mentioned the term biophilia, coined by E.O Wilson, it means that humans have an inherent need to connect to the natural world along with other forms of life as well. This struck me as profound and reminded me of our assignment to bring in an artifact that represented our connection to the more than human world. This assignment got me thinking. All of us have something that ties us to nature, but what about the people who deny the existence of climate change and reject the need to protect and conserve ecosystems around the world? Do these people have a happy place where the sun hits their face just right? Do they have a childhood memory of hiking with the biggest smile planted across their face? Do they remember a time when they were just as in touch with nature as E.O. Wilson claimed all humans to be? I’m sure they do, so how can they be so close-minded when it comes to the conservation of our planet?
If we agree with Wilson’s assertion of biophilia, then it seems unlikely that any human could be indifferent to the destruction of nature and all it has to offer, and yet there are powerful people in this world who openly say climate change is nothing more than a myth, and pollution does not, in fact, have a negative effect on our environment at all. Something has shifted within society. People seem to care less and less about the effect we are having on the world and more about material things that satisfy them in the moment. Take, for example, plastic bags. Sure they are convenient in the moment but in the long run, plastic isn’t biodegradable and it is made up of nothing more than nasty chemicals which take a toll on wildlife and their habitats. As Professor Long pointed out in class, humans used to live as a part of nature, but now, we live apart from it. There are still nature lovers and protectors out there of course, but now there is just so much to distract us from the fact that we, the human race, are killing what we were meant to live in harmony with.
In elementary school, we would go for a lot of hikes around the Upper Valley, and I remember one particular teacher who used to say to us, “Experience nature, don’t let nature experience you”. This has stuck with me ever since I first heard it, and to this day, I think it is one of the most useful pieces of advice I have ever received. I won’t be the first person to say it, but humans are destructive as hell, and sadly, it seems to only get worse as time goes on. My road –naturally beautiful, and named rightly so– is not even safe from the destruction. When my parents bought the land our house now rests on, they had to clear cut trees, in other words, they had to disrupt beauty to live among it. To a certain extent I think this is okay because if we never made a spot for ourselves in the natural world, it would eat us alive, but what I do have an issue with is people destroying nature simply because it serves their own selfish interests. For example, on my road, and on basically any road I have ever traveled on, there is trash. Cans, cigarette butts, plastic, and broken glass litter nature for no good reason other than because someone was too lazy to throw their trash away in the proper place. This is the kind of thing that biophilia doesn’t explain. If the relationship between humans and nature is so innate then why is it that we seem to only be able to exist in opposition? I almost feel like the definition of biophilia should be something more like: humans have the inherent desire to affiliate with other forms of life, unfortunately hurting the natural world in the process.
People’s connection to nature is powerful, but I can’t help but also think about how we unintentionally, and sometimes intentionally, harm it. Cars pump toxic gasses into the atmosphere. Eating meat creates harmful greenhouse gasses, and causes deforestation at major rates. People run their water as if we have an infinite supply when there are people in Flint, Michigan who already don’t have safe drinking water. Plastic and oil infest the ocean, killing marine life, and destroying underwater habitats such as coral reefs. It’s overwhelming just to write about, and I didn’t even list a fraction of the problems environments and animals face today.
On one hand, people have a strong desire to experience and be a part of nature, but on the other, people abuse and take advantage of all that the natural world gives to us. It’s much like a vicious cycle that is constantly being fed until it eventually will just spin out of control. So lately I’ve been finding myself wondering, can humans and mother Earth truly live in harmony together, or is it inevitable that we exist at odds with one another until the end of time?