Nature is sacred. I state this as a true fact, because that’s what a belief is. A belief is complete confidence that an idea is true. I am confident that this idea is true: Nature is sacred.
But I’m of a scientific mind. I like to have proof behind my beliefs. For this belief, I have a piece of evidence that no person reading or hearing this can deny: You, and everyone else living on this planet, breathed today. That breath, without which you would perish in moments, is a free gift from the planet. It is truly miraculous that we were born on a world that, without our asking, provides us with every possible thing we could need to survive. Every bite of food is a gift. I have gratitude for every inhale.
I was raised in a family without religion. But I was also raised in a small town in Vermont. The hills that surrounded the village were thick with forests, orchards, farms, and gardens. I always knew where the food, water, lumber, and soil that sustained me came from. As the seasons turned, I could watch the surrounding world shrug off its blanket of snow, explode with humid green, and then draw its forces back again, leaving behind a blaze of fall colors and the cool silhouettes of bare November trees. Neighbors could discuss the temperamental weather for hours on end. We knew nature with the visceral force of people whose lives depended on it.
Now, I live in Boston. Many people here wonder how I could have grown up without God. I wonder how they could have grown up without trees. For even if I live in the center of a city, my life is no less dependent on the air, plants, animals, and the sea than it was back in my country town.
But beyond providing basic resources, nature speaks to my soul. I’ve read that cities can prevent urban sprawl by planning more parks and green spaces near their centers. If people are forced to live without nature, even a small, artificially maintained patch of nature, they will flee the city in search of their own quarter-acre parcel of the living world. I often feel the desire to flee my concrete back yard and return to my home town, where I can walk among trees, smell the cool, complex air of the woods, eat an apple crisp from the orchard. I’ve read essays by staunch industrialists who do their best thinking in the middle of a trout stream, and religious leaders who turn to the mountains to hear the voice of God. I can’t explain what it is about the natural world that inspires peace, awe, and joy in the human mind any better than one can explain what it means to feel the holy spirit. But I believe that these things are one and the same. I believe that nature is sacred.
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