Wikipedia defines "recreation" as "the expenditure of time in a manner designed for therapeutic refreshment of one's body or mind” and ends with a revealing Wiki-ism: “Fun redirects here.” Nature just becomes a place to play now and then, where we go to "get away from it all" for a little.
We aren't invited to ask what we are getting away to, or why our real life must be the sort of thing that we periodically have to get away from in the first place. Recreation only makes our everyday distance from nature bearable.
Nature: Right Next To Us & All The Time
I propose that our actual task — today's necessity and tomorrow's great chance — is to head in exactly the opposite direction. Not to seek out nature somewhere else, occasionally and at ever-increasing cost both to ourselves and to it, but to reconnect with the natural world right next to us, and all the time.
Imagine everyday life — home, family, work, school — in modes that are thoroughly embedded in and open to nature. Waking to sunlight and birdsong and morning breezes. From backyard or neighborhood garden or orchard come breakfast's apples or berries or melons, grown in part by us. The day's weather we learn not from the newspaper or the Internet but from the feel of the air and our own knowing appraisal of the clouds.
On the verandas and footpaths we cross paths with Snake and Heron and Deer (or depending on where you are and how you travel, Kangaroo, Quetzal, Sea Lion...), going their own ways, wary but not afraid, while just past the sharp edge of our dense but narrow strip of city lie forest or desert or ocean, self-possessed and whole too, foggy or rustling as the day lengthens.
Arriving at work, maybe we walk into another welcoming and semi-open space, full of natural light, shaded as needed as the sun and heat rise or are warmed by radiant heat sinks that temper the cooler breezes. Afternoon siesta comes later; tending the garden or helping with the children's chickens; then cooking and dinner, with family and friends, and the stars and owls at night.
Utopia or Eminently Achievable Reality?
I know: all of this may sound impossibly unrealistic and romantic — and maybe also, honestly, a little unsettling (a little too much nature, maybe? what if we get cold? do mice bite?) and also, arguably, a privilege only of certain classes. There is a point to all of these concerns. Yet it is all entirely possible — with a thousand variations, of course, for season and region and stage of life and everything else, but still eminently achievable, and for everyone. It takes less rather than more: less stuff, less power, less oil, less infrastructure, less relentless self-insulation. So which is actually more "realistic"?
Today nature mostly shows up as an intrusion or a disruption. What's remarkable, though, is that when it does "intrude,” the actual result is often a greater sense of connection both to each other and to the natural world — just waiting, as it were, for its moment. I suspect that many of us have had experiences like that: we just need to make them the rule, not the exception.
I was living in the middle of Long Island in 1985 when Hurricane Gloria took out our power for two weeks. Food started thawing in fridges and freezers, and here and there people had gas-powered grills... so within a day or two, folks who you usually only saw as they sped off to work would suddenly invite you over for all you could eat. Then, without electricity and nowhere else to go, we'd just sit for hours in someone's backyard and watch the full Moon rise. It was an equinox Moon, too: full and shimmering, massive and brooding in the absence of any other light, the likes of which few people had ever seen. For a week we lived on lobster and moonlight.
The kids' question is the right one: why not all the time? The Moon, the Dark, each other — the real "real world" — are all there awaiting us...
Nature no longer pushed away to some half-feared and recreationally tamed distance, but always and insistently present, everywhere. Design on all levels , from whole cities and regions to individual buildings and their settings, systematically and decisively embracing the more-than-human natural world.
Reimagining the House to Connect with Nature
I have lived most of my adult life in two houses. Neither came to us with storm windows or screens. One even had its windows painted shut long ago. The only option was processed air every day of the year, always cooled or heated to the same temperature — these houses were climatological fortresses, symbols as well as mechanisms of separation.
Yet both were perfect buildings for cross-ventilation. We patiently freed up all the windows, built or bought screens and storm windows. Now we keep them open three or four months a year, and hear the owls at night and cardinals on spring mornings with their liquid mating calls, the winds rising and the distant thunder, the chickens cackling over their latest eggs.
It is a simple thing and yet profound: even the soundscape and the breezes on our skin signal that we belong to a world far bigger than the merely human, a world alive all around us. We know, so deeply that it does not even need to be said, that we live in a more-than-human world. It is a comfort and a delight, an endless source of richness and surprise.
©2012 by Anthony Weston. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
New Society Publishers. http://newsociety.com
Mobilizing the Green Imagination: An Exuberant Manifesto
by Anthony Weston.
Philosophical provocateur Anthony Weston urges us to move beyond ever more desperate attempts to “green” the status quo toward entirely different and far more inviting ecological visions — the perfect antidote to the despair brought on by too many “doom and gloom” scenarios.
About the Author
Anthony Weston is professor of philosophy and environmental studies at Elon University in North Carolina, where he teaches ethics, environmental studies, and "Millennial Imagination." He is the author of twelve other books, including How to Re-Imagine the World and Back to Earth, as well as many articles on ethics, critical thinking, education, and contemporary culture. At Elon, Weston has been named both Teacher of the Year and Scholar of the Year. Find out more about him at his Elon University profile page.