A Need for Nature

Image courtesy of Wyldraven on deviantart.com

Caught in the throes of the information age, with smartphones galore and the distractions of the digital revolution, it can be easy for someone to forget the intimate connection all of humanity recently shared with nature. Even in the West, where industry and technology found their deepest roots, there was a great deal of interaction and familiarity man had toward animals and plants, enough humility to kneel before landscapes and weather. And it was not limited to pets or what a man could see in his backyard. Children still had to go outside and play, since Halo and Skyrim were not around to entertain us.

For one example among many, look at how we view the consumption of meat. Decades ago, killing animals for their meat was a matter of survival. When your meat is prepackaged and available by the truckload at Safeway, on the other hand, there’s no reminder of what it is to take an animal’s life: grim, but useful and often necessary. So, the death of any animal, even to provide food or medicine or clothing, seems cruel and unfair to someone who has never had to kill something. And that is how some people begin to see slaughterhouses as concentration camps, and react with moral outrage when they are reminded of where their meat comes from. However, except for rare cases of cruelty to animals before their death, such a reaction is unwarranted. Hunters and farmers have a greater exposure to nature and know better than that. They kill animals quickly and humanely, and know that a butcher is not always a cruel figure. I doubt most vegans would last a week in an Inuit camp, where almost every scrap of food is some sort of meat or fat.

Another way we have been deprived of nature is the staggering number of children who have been raised away from it. Most kids have grown up with video games and sports for pastimes. Particularly in urban areas, only camping trips and the meager offerings of the local park are there to sate their appetite for any world aside from the artificial one, the one carefully sculpted to please human sensibilities and comfort zones. If you want anything more exotic, you’ll need to rent Planet Earth DVDs or watch National Geographic specials. Good luck convincing an overprotective parent that their children are impoverished by being kept indoors all day.

But the forgotten world of animals, foliage, caves, and mountains should always be available to them. Nature will always be with us, and has taken root in the very core of human nature. We cannot afford to neglect it. Its benefits and beauty and complexity are forgotten and unheeded when we reduce it to a few weeks in summer camp, or neatly manicured lawns and houses where any species not under our direct control is labeled a “pest” and rapidly exterminated.

My parents gave me a unique gift by moving out into a rural area of Colorado, and letting me go outside. Zoos and natural history museums (and when we were still in California, the Monterrey Bay Aquarium) were our family outings. Fossils and rocks were pretty much the only things I thought were worth collecting. (Well, them and old dinosaur movies, but that’s for another post) I got to harvest tadpoles from the neighbors’ pond, and regularly caught toads and garter snakes and horned lizards and tiger salamanders around our house. God only knows how many ant farms and fish I’ve kept over the years. Our household has been home not only to the requisite dogs and cats, but to brine shrimp and goats alongside iguanas and corn snakes, rats and gerbils, geckos and grasshoppers. If Noah needed to stock another ark, we could have done it for him.

That appreciation for nature is not as strong in my current life as I want it to be, but it’s still there. The springtime song of a western meadowlark still relaxes me like no other sound can. I smile every time I see a red-tailed hawk perched on a telephone pole and looking for prey. When a monarch butterfly or tiger swallowtail flaps by me, the world goes quiet, and I am at peace watching its color-splashed wings carry it onward. I relish the chance to see a thunderstorm raging above me, and don’t mind the rain at all.

Of course, when daily contact with nature is lost, one other thing you leave behind is a healthy respect of nature’s power, the raw fact that it follows its own rules. Nature will be taken seriously whether you like it or not. No, tsunamis and volcanoes and animal stampedes are no one’s idea of happy coexistence with the world. But we should face it: the world is not a tame place. Yellowstone tourists can get killed if they approach a bear or bison with anything less than an urgent reverence for the animal’s strength and unpredictability. Surfers can be crushed under the slam of a powerful wave. Hikers and hunters are more familiar with the dangers, and even they can sometimes find nature a lethal element to be in.

But there is still beauty there, indispensable and not meant to be forgotten. The kind of beauty that lends fire to poetry and emotion to paintings is always there, even in the most perilous corners of the natural world. And it will reward you if you’re willing to be brave and search it out.

I haven’t yet gone hunting, and my idea of hiking is pretty much restricted to a stroll around the local park. But what I have seen is truly beautiful, works of art more nuanced and captivating than anything a human imagination could conjure. Turtles floating serenely on the glassy surface of a lake while fish glide underneath; blasts of lightning throwing their glory over the plains in the depths of starless night; deer picking their way through fields with silent hooves; comet Hale-Bopp streaking its way across the heavens, bright as an angel’s wing, never to come back in our lifetimes. Those are the things I cherish, the things worth holding on to when nature and I embrace each other, like comrades, like lovers, like old friends.

Published by johnkpatterson

I am a published fantasy author and self-trained artist living in Colorado.

11 thoughts on “A Need for Nature

  1. “Rare cases of cruelty to animals before their death”? What!?! Dude, have you been in a slaughterhouse? How about a commercial pig farm, or a barn full of veal calf stalls? A commercial “free-range” chicken farm, where hens are allowed outside if they can get their deformed, detoed feet to climb over thousands of other birds? And once outside, they’re free to peck at the ground – without their beak, of course, because that’s been amputated. Or how about the quarter billion egg-laying hens that aren’t permitted “freedom”? Stuffed into an 18″ x 20″ cage – with three other birds – they can only eat, shit, lay eggs and try to sleep. Rare cases of cruelty?

    And what is the vegan-in-the-Intuit-camp supposed to be saying? How on earth does it have anything to do with well, anything, but specifically your claim that hunters kill as a matter of survival? The Intuit hunt to live, but it’s a “sport” in this country (and others). With all that pre-packaged stuff waiting in stores, there isn’t any need to go hunting that’s survival based.

    If you wish to eat meat, that’s your choice and I certainly don’t begrudge you that choice. But to justify that decision by saying commercial farmers treat feed lot animals humanely before they’re butchered is, at best, naive. If it isn’t naivete you’re speaking through, then it’s a crass attempt to white-wash the truth.

    1. Sorry I did not clarify earlier. I was referring to intentional cruelty. Unfortunately, when you handle so many animals at a time, creatures with injuries and some kind of malady are almost inevitable. There are still many farmers and butchers who merely try to manage the best they can with animals raised to provide food. I’m not sure if slaughterhouses, whether in theory or practice, can be called intrinsically “cruel,” when the intent is to simply raise meat animals.

      Besides, the point of that paragraph was to say we lost the context of what it means to kill your dinner. It’s not to start a debate on animal rights. But thank you for the input.

      1. So, you’re saying that deforming a hen isn’t intentional cruelty? Confining a bird or a four-legged creature to a pen it can’t move around in isn’t intentional cruelty? Are you disputing the “intentional” part or the “cruelty” part?

        Slaughterhouses don’t raise meat animals, they slaughter them. That’s why the word “slaughter” is used to describe them.

        We don’t normally equate chicken farms as confining concentrated quantities of humans, and we don’t normally equate concentration camps as confining concentrated quantities of non-humans. But you haven’t yet explained why it’s unreasonable to equate the atmosphere of a commercial chicken farm with the atmosphere of a concentration camp. Is it because you don’t eat human flesh?

        “the point of that paragraph was to say we lost the context of what it means to kill your dinner”
        That was the point? One sentence addresses that. One sentence leads into it. The rest come off, to me at least, as thinly-veiled bashing.

        I’m really NOT trying (or hoping) to get into a raging argument about this, nor am I trying to start a debate about animal rights. I can’t find anything in what I’ve said that would give the impression of the latter – although I do wonder how you could condone the ill-treatment of any living thing so cavalierly. You stated “rare cases of cruelty”. I asked if you were aware of how animals raised for food were treated. I asked how dropping a vegan into an Inuit camp had anything to do with anything. You’ve yet to answer those. You disappoint me, sir.

  2. Before I go any farther or answer any other questions, we first need to know what is at stake. What has convinced you that chickens or any other animal have such high value or such keen awareness? What makes it a moral imperative to change the way slaughterhouses conduct their business and make them more humane? How did you come to the conclusion that these birds have the ability to react to pain in such a way that it behooves us to make slaughterhouses more humane? And how can I be assured that your reasons are based on logic and evidence instead of emotional appeal? Those are the questions unasked for the moment.

    I’m not even sure why we’re having this conversation. You completely missed the point of the post and managed to explode a minor part of one paragraph. By posting these comments, you only set yourself up for disappointment.

  3. You made two blanket statements I questioned: (1) animals raised for food are treated humanely (2) a vegan wouldn’t last a week in a Inuit camp. You’ve completely ignored (2) and danced around (1) in ways that defy understanding.

    So, yeah, I’m disappointed. Because I had expected more. I had expected if you were going to make statements for the world to see then you were prepared to discuss/explain/answer questions. But if you were merely looking for pats on the back, so be it.


    1. Wait a minute…
      Forgive me, Jeff. I had no idea it was you. I thought it was some random person dropping in, so I wasn’t worried about answering. I feel really stupid right now.

      I’ll try my best to answer your questions. In regards to (1), I am fully aware that meat animals can be treated quite cruelly. I suppose I’d be contesting the “cruelty” part. What constitutes needless suffering (as opposed to amputating a leg to keep the chicken from dying) can be very hard to pin down, at times, because of all the logistical problems of raising thousands of animals at a time. What changes ought to be made, so the animals are raised and killed as humanely as possible, is for another discussion, because I simply don’t know nearly enough about the debates on animal rights.

      Pertaining to (2)…well, there wasn’t much of anything to say. Except that given their diet of whale, seal, fish, etc. it would be hard to be an Inuit vegan. I didn’t mean to insult anyone, Jeff, and I hope you’ll forgive me for any unintentional offense. If I misunderstood why you’re objecting, please let me know.

      Without trying to sound smug or uncaring, I am honestly curious as to how much a chicken is suffering, even with an amputated beak. Animals obviously feel pain and react to it, but one recent discovery is that no animal, aside from humans and the great apes, has enough capacity for abstract thought to realize they are in a state of pain, and so they cannot think “Why? Woe is me. Why is this happening to me?” I still want to be ethical in the treatment of any animal, but it is a question worth asking: How much suffering does an animal go through?

  4. Coming in at the tale end of the debate. Not going to jump in! Just wanted to say I enjoy your blog and am glad you stopped by mine so I could have the chance to read yours. Great writing, thought provoking and you are very patient with your replies!

  5. Great article! It’s sad to see people pull one thing out of context *cough* animal rights *cough* and miss the greater whole of the article. Not saying Mr. Sampson was wrong; I don’t think this is the place to get into the argument he was talking about. Just saying he seems to miss what you were getting at.

    In any case, it’s refreshing to see someone encouraging us to pull away from the personal pleasures of LCD screens and games that lock us inside our apartments and engage with the world in an honest look.

    Bravo, my friend, bravo.

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