|Humanist Essay for May 2012
"Nature Is Inescapable"
Spring is quickly moving into summer, and the
irrigation ditch where we take our daily walks affords
many opportunities to observe nature, tamed and
untamed and all stages in between. I'm impressed by
how plant and animal life have adapted to changing
conditions over the years. I remember when the water
came down the ditch twice a week; then it was limited to
once a week; and for the past several years, we only get
water every other week. And yet, there is a pair of ducks
that still makes our ditch their part-time home.
Wherever they were all winter, and wherever they go in
the off weeks, they continue to appear regularly every
spring with the first flow of water, and can be found
paddling about happily when the water is high, or flying
overhead from one lingering puddle to the next as the
water drains away. Ducks in the desert -- raising babies,
no less -- hardly troubled by the people and dogs
walking or trotting along beside them; bravely co-
existing with predatory hawks, roadrunners, tame and
feral cats, and who knows what-all that comes out at
Nature is not only resilient, it's relentless. Mustard weeds have grown waist-high already in the bone-dry back alley. The ants' nests are swarming back to life. Wherever a small rock casts a small shadow in which a drop of moisture can linger, a tiny tumbleweed sprouts. Even more impressive, given my decidedly not-green thumb, the intentional plantings have mostly survived and in some cases thrived.
My biggest success has been with the wisteria in front of my studio, positioned to grow for shade and color over the wrought iron that protects the big, south- facing window. Poor thing couldn't even shade itself at first. For several summers we had to put a sort of tent over it in the hottest months. But this spring I am sitting in the dappled light of a healthy vine that drips with lush purple blooms. Yes, I had a hand in its success, but still, I was only giving an assist to nature to do what it does anyway.
And that's my point. That's all we're ever doing. We are in nature, part of nature, working with nature. Our own minds are an ecosystem of sorts. Are we going to let them be paved over, or can we allow a little space there for something to grow? Thoughts and emotions are part of our organic nature. Perception, consciousness, creativity, curiosity, analysis, learning -- these are natural processes that are not readily suppressed. Surely if they could be quieted, they would be by now, given the immense exertions throughout history of power- greedy control freaks and their punishing institutions.
And what of the future? We have in our collective imagination unpleasant images of humanity becoming programed, robotic, or actually increasingly inorganic, while the "State" manages a homogeneous, mechanized society with dictatorial dispassion. Some might see certain aspects of contemporary culture as evidence that we are already well down that path.
What role can we play as humanists to prevent the nightmare from coming true? Shall we respond with a counter set of maneuvers designed to impose the social format we prefer on those we consider less enlightened or less well-intentioned? I would rather we simply be that drop of water, that spot of shade, that crack in the pavement in which minds and hearts may naturally grow -- naturally good, strong and beautiful -- thus creating more and more fertile soil where all can thrive.