NATURE: Friend or Foe?

Those who know that I love to travel, that I have prowled the back roads of 27 states and visited 10 national parks in the past 5 months, that I love to photograph raptors, predators, scenic landscapes, anything majestic or wild & untamed – might think that I am a starry-eyed romantic.

But what does that mean, to be a “romantic”?

Well… Romanticism was a cultural movement/attitude prevalent in the late 18th and early to mid-19th centuries. And yes, they crafted a special understanding of Nature.

Nature, with all its shifting moods, was a metaphor for the Romantic imagination. In the great outdoors one could escape the dismal effects of the growing Industrialism of the 19th Century: urban blight, smoke-belching factories, poverty-ridden slums. Nature was a source of solace, inspiration, self-discovery.

oxbow bend in the Tetons

In the broadest sense, the Romantic view of nature was nothing short of religious. Divine ecstasy – the mystical bond that united God with the human soul – was out there in the mountains and the rivers and the valleys.

• There is a redemptive power in Nature, said William Wordsworth. One who is close to Nature is close to God.

• Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, claimed Percy Bysshe Shelley. And poets take their authority from Nature – the source of sublime truth and the fountainhead of inspiration.

• To directly experience Nature, said Ralph Waldo Emerson, is to become united with God. In the presence of Nature:

o All mean egotism vanishes

o I become a transparent eyeball

o I am nothing, I see all

o The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me

o I am part or parcel of God

Hot Springs, Yellowstone

Who has not felt faint stirrings of the heart while watching the sun at the last minute slip through a blanket of clouds and drop like a ball of fire into the ocean, or looking down from the ridge of a mountain into a vast expanse cut through solid rock by a river millions of years ago? One would have to be insensitive indeed not to feel humbled, witness to something transcendent, in the presence of the sublime.

Yellowstone Falls

But not so fast. Platitudes are beguiling. Yes, we are all romantics in our youth. But do we wear blinders the rest of our lives?

Peer into the thickets and what you see may turn your stomach. A cruel merciless life & death struggle – no guarantees, no exceptions. For those with a clear and unbiased eye, a bloody drama of staggering proportions plays out daily, hourly, minute by minute.

osprey eating fish

Ernest Becker asks:

“What are we to make of a creation in which the routine activity is for organisms to be tearing others apart with teeth of all types—biting, grinding flesh, plant stalks, bones between molars, pushing the pulp greedily down the gullet with delight, incorporating its essence into one’s own organization, and then excreting with foul stench and gasses the residue? Everyone reaching out to incorporate others who are edible to him?”

I’ll express my opinion in a later post, but what do you think? Vote below.

NOTE: if you click on “other” you can enter your own response.

2 Replies to “NATURE: Friend or Foe?”

  1. I love nature in terms of viewing the various fantastic scenery it offers. But I abhor the survival of the fittest aspect of the beasts in it. How dare you, John. The bottom photo is going to give me nightmares tonight. 😀

    I envy you for having had the opportunity to explore the beauty of all your states and parks.


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