When I was young, I would often storm out of the front door of my house, drop in a heap to the ground a few feet away, and begin eating the fallen, brown, crunchy pine needles from the forest floor. In hindsight, I am forced to realize that this was neither a healthy nor, admittedly, tasteful act, and, indeed, not an overall effective method to solve my problems (one particularly memorable one being my parents insistence that I eat what I assumed to be shredded dried fish tossed with mashed salmon eggs. It turned out to be marmalade). Nevertheless, it gave me a sort of consolation, an escape from the alien foods and looming parents that awaited me upon my return to the house. It gave me an indirect separation from my parents also, a sense of independence. But not strictly, for no person is ever completely independent, dependencies are simply shifted. And at that moment, my dependency was shifted, slightly, from my parents to Nature. And thus ended the first of my lessons from nature; that to be partially dependent on it is to become that much more free from the more demanding synthetic dependencies in life.
Now, my six year old self, sitting beneath and tree and contently munching on a handful of pine needles, had no idea of the lesson he had just learned. For the next ten years, though, he would employ the security he found in nature nearly every day, retreating to it for that freedom that he had discovered. He would become so intrigued by nature that, shortly before his sixteenth birthday, he would sign away five weeks of his life to a young organization that (in affectionate memory of the Civilian Conservation Corps) called itself the Northwest Youth Corps. About two and a half weeks into the experience, around 10:30 on a Tuesday morning, I was working, with one other girl, a few hundred yards ahead of my crew on sagebrush removal. There was no conversation, and I found myself wondering how soon the next break was. I considered asking my friend for the time, but as I lifted my head, an indescribable feeling of content flooded my open mouth. Even now, I find it nearly impossibly to explain, and so instead I will describe what I have decided to be its cause. After spending two dozen days entirely removed from all that causes me stress, I was in a state of wellness. I found myself very happy to (at the risk of running a cliché) simply be. Being removed from all stressors, there was nothing that I needed a break from, and so the time was very much unimportant. And so ended my second lesson from nature: that to live in it is to be removed from the structure of societal life, and thus be removed from the commotion that is detrimental to a smooth lifestyle.
I feel now that I must make a clarification, a distinction between me and the heap of evangelizing “back to nature” idealists into which I fear my audience may have already tossed me. I view nature as a source of understanding; a constant answer to the consistent questioning. Although I claim to not be religious, I am sure that nature holds for me what God holds for a Christian or Allah for a Muslim. Presented with a dilemma, I analyze the options based on which follows the most natural path; which imitates nature best, which helps nature, which is derived from nature, and so on. I do this because nature is what feeds us. I don’t know about a destiny inflicting man in the sky, but I do know that nature allows us to survive. I know that through its course, we are created, nurtured, taught, and allowed to die. So maybe I am wrong, maybe there is a being who pulls our strings, but this is what I believe.
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