Reflections on Nature in a Modern Age

Yesterday was a stereotypically lovely autumn day.  The trees were a host of seasonal colors, though not quite at their peak; the sun was out, a hint of the cold soon to descend on this region was carried by the wind, and the endless azure sky stretched soothingly overhead.  I walked through a meadow still somewhat green but with the drying stocks of rapidly fading wildflowers dotting much of the landscape.  The creeks I crossed burbled pleasantly as an assortment of birds sailed overhead at play on the air currents.

Why am I writing this self-indulgent remembrance?  I’m getting there.

I also stopped at an overlook to pause and observe the distance between me and the cluster of buildings that are downtown Columbus.  I asked my brother-in-law how long it might take to walk from that overlook to downtown.  We talked through some educated guesses and decided it might take roughly five or six hours on a good day.  But then again who has the time or desire to take five or six hours walking someplace when most people could reach it in about twenty minutes by car? But what if we lived in an age where that wasn’t an option?

The question has me pondering how our modern mentality has affected our relationship with nature.  The Romantics and the Transcendentalists obviously felt a need to explore this topic so why can’t I dedicate a few moments to it as well?

I took a flight this summer out to San Francisco.  At one time the trip I took would have taken months and required the traveler to endure any number of dangers and hardships; my trip lasted under five hours.  I flew at night going out and was too high up during the day to see much other than clouds.  What all did I miss seeing below?  Obviously the main point of the trip was not to commune with nature but to get out there safely and efficiently.  I’m also fine with the fact that I can visit family on the other side of town in half an hour instead of it taking the better part of a day to get there.  Still it does make me wonder what natural sights and experiences I’m missing because I choose convenience.

By extension I feel that sometimes we as a society can’t full appreciate some of the literature of the past because many of the hardships and wonder of natural discovery they present to us is mitigated by modern society.  This means some of the meaning; some of the richness of the work is lost on modern readers. How often do you go someplace to get out and enjoy nature and bring a set of headphones or talk on the cell?  Thoreau would probably chuck your iPhone into the pond.  Hawkeye and many of the other characters in The Last of the Mohicans would shake their heads in dismay. And Coleridge might adorn the phone around your neck like the mariner’s albatross.

Humans and nature have a unique relationship and are inexorably bound.  And as we all know nature can still be quite harsh.  But it also maintains a dialogue, as it has for countless eons, to those who are willing to listen.  So when the world gives you a moment to relax and nature is having a good day, take the opportunity to connect to your life and the world around you.  You might be surprised where a moment of peace and reflection can take you.