The solace or the end – The End of Nature (1989)

I like the idea that I can use my blog for wondering aloud and ordering my thoughts. I have just come in the door from a walk and fixed in my mind is the image of a great, old gum tree, standing proudly from a backyard and reaching for the sky; as I was passing, the sinking sun illuminated its western aspect with brilliant light. I stood and watched, and the weight of the city and a day indoors dissolved in that golden light.

Bill McKibben in The End of Nature writes of how humans tend to seek solace in nature, away from the worries of a western world existence. In nature, our worries – financial, existential, emotional and so on – take on a different perspective. Although I stood looking at that gum tree with the houses of the suburb stretching away from me in all directions, I was comforted by the strength of the tree and by the light that came in from afar to reach it, illuminating the texture of the bark.

Walking back along the street towards home I stopped and looked at the fruit forming on the cherry trees that not long ago were dripping white blossoms on the footpath. The fruit on the tree was smooth-skinned and perfect. Below it on the path lay its squashed siblings, trampled underfoot and split. I thought of the big gum tree reaching for the sky, leaning a little to the north and dropping its blossoms each year. I thought of how the cycles of life and the evolution of gum trees and cherry trees are changed and directed utterly by our presence in the landscape.

Bill’s words were still on my mind, and I found myself imagining a world where living organisms exist entirely under the constraints of human actions. I questioned the conclusion that I came to just a few days ago – that nature, twenty one years after the book was wrote, is not dead. At that moment on the street on my way home, I was suddenly aware of how strongly I sought the solace provided by the sunlight on that gum tree, and yet how lonely that tree was in the suburbs and how dependent on the whims of people not to cut it down if it got in the way. I finally understood what Bill meant. Monoculture, manicured gardens, bushland invaded by exotics, genetically modified crops – the list of human adaptations to plant life is endless, and once nature is directed by us humans to this extent, then the idea of nature is itself slowly dying. Once it is gone, there is no going back.

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