Forgetting Eden: How to Accept Our Place in Nature

David Oates’s, Paradise Wild, offers insights on how we do and could think about nature.  Contrary to how I usually feel after reading pieces that have to do with environmental issues, after reading these sections of Paradise Wild I felt surprisingly invigorated.  Of course what we need is a fresh outlook on the natural world altogether; if we enter into nature with feelings of guilt, unworthiness, and/or a sense of otherness as we seem to currently do, we may never feel up to the challenge of properly protecting these environments.  The nature myths that we seem to have established contribute to feelings of separateness and a sense that merely by existing as human beings we are a destructive force endangering the natural world.  But why should we not see ourselves as part of this world? Wouldn’t it make sense that the more we view ourselves as separate and destructive in relation to nature, the more difficult it will be to learn to live as members of it and within it?  David Oates makes some very compelling points as he calls for a new myth and a breaking down of boundaries that seems to contradict how we usually want to approach the natural environment.                                                                                                                          After reading the introduction in Paradise Wild, I began to think of how we could really begin to alter our views and feel like members of nature as opposed to potential enemies of it.  These thoughts kept coming to me after reading this particular passage:

I think the idea of wilderness might serve. […] Not an Eden to be fenced, lost, saved; but an Eden to be rediscovered everywhere, inside the designated wilderness, and out. […] I hope that by reforming the language and though of environmentalism, we can do a better job of treasuring our forests, wildlands, and peoplelands, right down to the last square centimeter of backyard garden, the remotest juniper snag on an unnoticed cliff, the least cell in the body.

This passage emphasizes the notion that by discovering and appreciating the natural world everywhere and bringing it into our daily lives, we are better able to treasure and protect the natural environment.  After reading this, I continued to think about how we could accomplish this task of altering our views and living as members of nature on a regular basis, and I could not stop considering the concept of sustainable architecture.  Although there are many ways in which we may begin to live as members of nature, as Oates seems to be suggesting, I am continually drawn to the idea of literally living within the midst of the natural world through altering how we construct our homes and communities.;

I wanted to add some examples of sustainable architecture in order to explore at least one possibility of how to understand nature as our home, not a far off land that has been designated as “wilderness area.”  However, as with everything else, if we saw this as the only solution to our problem we might continue to threaten our surrounding environments through overdevelopment.  Therefore, we must continue to strive for the acceptance of the concept of moderation.  How can we live in, utilize, preserve, and protect the natural world all at the same time?  Oates seems to feel that bringing an end to the accepted idea that humans are guilty destroyers of the natural world may move us in the right, or at least a better direction.                                                                                                                                            Furthermore, as Oates discusses the effects that our ingrained attitudes toward nature have on how we interact with it, he goes into detail about the Eden myth and discusses the danger of this myth, as well as nostalgia, in certain passages when he says:

I’m convinced that our public debate (and private struggle) over the environment are locked into an unresolvable cycle of use versus preservation because they are founded on the cultural myth of Paradise Lost, reinforced by an unexamined nostalgia.  A remembered perfection; an inevitable decay—this thought pattern has already broken the world into two opposites: nature/wilderness/Eden and human/civilized/fallen.  Likewise it has dived time into a Golden Age past and an essentially tragic historical present. […]  But romanticizing the actual, historical past—mislabeling it as a time when ‘everything’ was better can only slander the present and feed a reactionary politics. […] The present is demonized, a fantasy past is idolized, and sensible thought is impossible.

Although I have never really thought of nostalgic sentiments as dangerous, Oates points out just how harmful they actually are.  If we constantly view nature as a far off, fantasy-like place that is quickly vanishing before our eyes, we fail to see what is actually there, what actually is.  By constantly living in the past and dwelling on what is lost we refuse to see how we may be a part of what remains; we are unable to live, interact with, and protect what actually exists.  I once again came across the idea of accepting what is and refusing to be nostalgic in order to “honor the truth” in an episode of Radiolab called, “Seeing in the Dark.”

This episode introduces the opposing perspectives of two men who lost their sight.  One of these men, John, chooses to extinguish images from his life and memory.  He does this because he does not want to live in nostalgia; in his words, he wants to be able to “recognize reality.”  At first, at least to me, this seems like a dry and hopeless kind of existence as he doesn’t imagine or picture anything; how could someone live like that?  However, after considering his point and thinking about what Oates says about the danger of living in nostalgia, I began to realize the importance of “recognizing reality” and “honoring the truth.”  We will not be able to protect and live as members of nature if we do not first accept it as it is, as well as accept our place in it.  We must recognize nature as it exists today, and we must define our place in it as natural beings that have the capacity to be members of nature, not destroyers of it.


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