Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Back from Nature

Humans are highly unnatural creatures. We tend to forget this fact. We are highly unnatural in the sense that we are conditioned by society and the historical circumstances in which we find ourselves. Birds and trees and other creatures of nature are not conditioned in this way. Whereas nature has no control over its own history, humans do. As Feuerbach wrote in his Theses on the Reform of Philosophy, in a line that resonated with Marx, "Man as a being sprung from nature is a creature of nature, not a man. Man is the product of man, of culture, of history."

Though the human essence is determined and expressed through man's social relations, man is nonetheless in some sense a creature of nature. People have always felt a peculiar sensation when they have spent days among forests and lakes. There is something invigorating about it; something that ever inspires reflection and wonder.

For me, time spent in the woods of northern Minnesota (yes, in a modern, well-stocked cabin), reminds me of the primordial fact that everything humans make requires a tremendous amount of work and activity, which depends upon community. Nature has to be constantly worked on to make way for the trappings of human society. In a sparsely populated area, it is easier to observe the fact that people are sustained by their relations with other people, by cultural activities and rituals, and the memory of times past; in the woods, utter solitude can be death to man, can sap the humanness from him. Nature is a relentless process indifferent to the concerns of humans. Humans cannot live by nature alone.


A Green Cowboy said...


Except for the odd case of complete recluses who shun all contact - but that, I submit, is a condition unique to that individual. Most of the world needs human contact, needs a connection to the history and future of human society.

And the flip side; we cannot live without the comprehension of nature, of wildness. We cannot live without our sense of context, or our views get wildly distorted and anthropocentric to the point of unintentional self-destruction.

“A weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature like Delicate Arch has the curious ability to remind us – like rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness – that out there is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours, a world which surrounds and sustains the little world of men as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship. The shock of the real.”

- Edward Abbey, page 41-42
Desert Solitaire

A Green Cowboy said...

Oh - one other question - did you get a 'cabin forecast' on the radio on the way up?

Mandingo said...

Are you referencing time spent in one of those ubiquitous Minnesotan cabins?

Anonymous said...

can't you just hang out and enjoy the outdoors?? does everything have to be hyper-analyzed ad nauseum??