In or Out of Nature?
by Lynn R. Miller of Singing Horse Ranch
It needs to be right out front, in plain sight all of the time. Speaking of our best values, speaking of who we are. It needs to be out front for each of us, because these days it is mighty easy to feel downhearted. And these days it is much too easy to take the coward’s way.
It’s in the air: “Well, what does it matter anyway?”
It’s a deadly refrain. It all matters, the environment, scientific and technological changes, math, alterations in the biology of life on earth, political nonsense, corporate malfeasance, deaths in the family, romance gone awry, wars, disease, art, injustice, soil chemistry, plant and animal genetics, education systems, generational frictions, hunger, poverty, health care infrastructure, food, heat, shelter, on and on, ad infinitum, everything in all of its profound complexity. But we individuals are NOT supposed to take it all in, let alone understand the whole of it.
We are however supposed to pay attention, close attention and be forever ready to rise up on our hind legs to demand that wrongs be set right.
We are supposed to cautiously watch ourselves grow, helping the process along with best choices, until we come to the first realizations of who we are, careful to keep it simple and direct. Are we to be chemists, musicians, doctors, artists, builders, actors, nurses, shopkeepers, or coaches? Too complicated right off the train. Narrow it down by casting a wider spectrum. a bigger colander but with smaller holes. Do YOU want a working life out of doors, with nature and animals? Do you instead see yourself on stage, in a studio, in a laboratory, downtown, in a sports arena? Out in a plowed field? Do you see yourself making a difference…?
Do you see yourself growing things, making things, fixing things, changing things, protecting things? Answers to those questions might take you to knowing whether or not you need to be in science, in theater, in sports, in medicine, in politics, in school, in farming.
For some of us such a process of envisioning futures might invite those limiting prejudices that would have any arena tainted by preconceptions. Take farming and a life out of doors for example: we know of folks to whom such an idea is threatening, even frightening and/or demeaning because for them it conjures a view of a bleak and unforgiving landscape, loneliness, hardship, and deprivation. While for others it instantly brings to mind gardens, forests, ripening grains, rows of vegetables, saddle horses, heavily ladened fruit trees, busy bees, continuity, bucolic scenes of livestock, and interlocking patchworks of fields. One prejudice holds certain folks off, while the other is purest agreeable invitation. It makes us suspect that getting inside of such a world of fertile complexity would allow security and an abiding sense of place.
The world keeps getting smaller as solid working class folk rediscover every single day that family, friends, neighbors, the locale of local, the close-in economies, the character of all nearby things animate and inanimate give comfort, identity, and reasons to strive, to persist and to succeed. And within that is the discovery that living within our means, within our community, within our families, though perhaps rightly seen as the essence of thrift, does deliver us the truest lasting wealth and useful health.
Recently we buried our old stock dog, Lucky. He lived to be 16 (one hundred and twelve in human years) and from the time he was 8 weeks old his entire life was spent on our home ranch. He earned his name in myriad ways. Also we were most fortunate to have shared all that time with him as, along with his courage and strength, he was a constant reminder that there is unquestioning love in the universe. We loved that dog. There was never any doubt that he would have given his life at any point to protect each member of his family. He was so anxious to serve in his capacity as stock dog that more than occasionally we had confusion which drove me nuts. I fear I took my anger out on him, but he always forgave me and came back insisting that I just show him what I wanted. And that took great courage.
So, I know, none of this is a big deal. Most of you have known good and great dogs like Lucky. But I must argue with myself and say it is a BIG deal because, in these moments of passage granting us individual heightened emotion and maybe just a smudge of clarity, thinking on what these working companions have given us shows us a portal into the magnificence and complexity of nature and biological order. And it constantly reminds us that we need to look closer at all those things right under foot, things we may be taking for granted. For what is under foot is most always clue to our own personal ‘nature’.
For example, with his passing I have find myself returning again to think about ‘the natural order of things’ – or to ask if there is such a thing. Some might see it as a religious question and that is as it always should be. But for lack of better words I will just say that at this juncture, in this moment, ‘the natural order of things’ for me has to do with the biological world and how all of life is knit together – (all of life – save for the deadly intrusive meddling of some ‘applied’ science). But to allow myself to think that way takes courage.
Big energy, Big hi-tech, Big Banking, and Big agriculture: obviously they all have in common large scale and trillions of dollars. Another thing they share, unwittingly, is culpability. These four sectors (along with munitions manufacturing) arguably contribute more to the disease of our planet, to the decay of the human spirit, to needless death, to global poverty, and to deadly pervasive hunger than any other thing known or knowable to mankind..
The disease of our planet is primarily evidenced by the destruction of the earth’s atmosphere (climate) but the malady extends well beyond that to the poisoning and sinister destabilization of biological diversity.
The decay of the human spirit is evidenced by mass drug addiction, public apathy, and a growing disregard for life.
Global poverty is increasingly entrenched by Big Banking’s successful cultivation of the world’s richest individuals at the expense of her poorest.
And deadly hunger is fueled by Big Agriculture’s growing control over the earth’s capacity to produce food.
I suspect some of you are angry with me that I choose to speak this way again. Well I forgive you and I’m back and insisting that you show me what you expect of me. Lucky was a stock dog. I’m a town crier, the one who in the old days would run up and down the street warning of approaching danger. A Paul Revere-type, if you will. But I’m clever enough to know that people won’t listen unless you give them reason to.
I want to think that we humans speaking from the heart lend the necessary reason for others to perhaps listen. I am not speaking as a journalist, I am speaking as an anxious human being because I am worried about the future of this planet and of we humans. I am writing as a grandfather. The time is past for reporting on conditions. And it may well be too late for a call to action. But on the off chance that is not true, it is time to call it as it is seen.
I’m a farmer and an artist these days, all by my choice. Fifty plus years ago I was into theater, dance and music. Over fifty years ago, in our brand new progressive high school I was given the daunting task of playing the lead in Glass Menagerie. I didn’t choose the job, the role. I was selected for it. It is, was, an exhaustive play that required an outpouring of emotion that pulled me down. Now, over a half century later, I no longer remember the words – but I do remember the cadence, the rhythm, the raw center of the flayed emotion. And I cannot tell you why but those feelings come to me now when I see and feel what we are doing to our environment, our planet, our individual spirits and our future as a species. I feel myself, inappropriately you might say, rising up to do battle with humanity, industry, commerce, government and organized religion because they all fail us miserably. You ask, ‘If we are humanity how can we fail us?’ If you have to ask then…
But why would any silly man see it as his place to take on such huge targets? Hasn’t mankind, with its 5,000 years of civilization, built in the safeguards, the institutions to protect this world, our world, even from ourselves? What of our laws?
Law is a fallible man-made concept which has less to do with Justice than it does with protecting property rights first and sorting out unacceptable human behavior second. (Beneath all of that is of course law’s over arching need to protect its own canon, to protect the sanctity of its accidental scriptures.) The concept of law, especially in these United States, rotates to the right contrary to biological imperative. And the concept of law has extended itself to include a complex set of justifications for collective actions which go against all that is holy and sacred – even to the determinate of who shall decide what is holy and sacred. (Read here that law has repeatedly decided in favor of the ‘inviolate holiness of corporations’ at the expense of human security, dignity and life.) Though law distances itself from that which is primal, it maintains the absolute right to terminate life. Certainly such power is in itself primal and you would think accountable to the biological universe – or…?
(It is damnably confusing to think on how Law has been used by good and great men as well as by hideous villans the likes of Hitler and Idi Amin, it has been called into service by agencies of great good-will as well as by evil corporate giants. A perverse suggestion that the ancients may have had it closer to correct when they decided that absolute law ought to belong to great and ruling individuals of conscience – or projected mythological deities, if only because at least somewhere in there is a notion of inescapable culpability. Ah, but there is the rub.)
In nature, molecules rotate left. Simplistic as that may be from a scientific standpoint it makes the case, in one way, that implicit in nature there is order and pattern. Humans, for thousands of years, rotated left in communion and union with all things biological. Since the nineteen twenties, since the titanic battles of Edison and Tesla, battles which epitomized industry versus wisdom (by the way, industry won and turned over the control to commerce) humans as a collective force have changed their axis and begun to rotate right. (This is not a political observation, it is a biological observation.) Much of the so-called civilized world works to deny nature (one notable exception, potentially and actually, is of course the true farmer).
How people interact with weather is an appropriate example. Farmer’s know from experience that they must ‘ride’ the weather, go with it, apply experience and understanding to perhaps slightly mollify its effects, but nonetheless embrace that they are within and part of the weather. For us, as farmers, it is difficult to fully appreciate the extent to which hundreds of millions of people prefer to spend their lives indoors in climate-controlled environments, never too hot never too cold – protected from the vagaries of wind, rain, frost, freeze, heat, and surprise. The industrial efforts to satisfy and expand this need for ‘control’ over the natural world of course embrace all of the so-called essentials: heat, housing, food, entertainment, exercise, and understanding. And all that stuff manifests itself in Big Energy, Big Agriculture, Big Banking, Big Hi-Tech.
More than half the world’s population are poor and hungry. Less than one percent control the resources of the world and they display little or no regard for those resources nor the disenfranchised bulk of humanity. Energy, Food, Wealth and Human connectivity are all, today, stretched so tight that we must expect collapse. Our energy systems will not take care of humanity much longer, oil will run out. Our perversely indiscriminate efforts to suck the earth dry of carbon fuels will succeed – and then what? Our food systems are on the brink of wholesale collapse made infinitely worse by zombie-genetics making it less and less likely that we can retrace our steps back to sustainability. And we pretend we are more connected with one another when in truth the cyber filaments are destroying our sociability and inviting rationales for deadly prejudice.
The threat of global famine, brought on by a combination of deadly bioengineering and climate change, is very real. The artifice of the global economy is once again near complete collapse perhaps resulting in what may be a centuries long financial depression. And the wacko internet seems dead-set on destroying any remaining dignity between individuals, ensuring distrust and war for ages.
Answers? They are all in nature.
A wrinkled browned flower petal fallen and caught in the cup of the fresh blossom below, a narrative moment in nature which argues in arabesque with those academic notions that nature is manifest chaos. It bogles the wide awake and observing mind that the limitless order and math of the biological universe could be seen as chaotic. With circular irony, perhaps because it is so often trapped in the predictability of patterned motive, with the random constant damage of the flailing edges of mankind’s centrifugal force, certainly human-kind has more claim on manifest chaos (read stupidity).
The force that would hold the more and most civilized amongst us to forever protect the most destructive secrets from ever leaving those darkest recesses of our brains, that force would argue that humans may have a capacity for deliberate order even though any reciprocal capacity for understanding escapes them.
Science (capital letter S) used to be about discovery, or at least that was the primary motive. Today, the extreme hazard is that science (small misshaped letter s) is now primarily in shackled service to government and industry, employed to either improve upon nature or put her in her place. Humanity seems to demand, require and expect that nature behave. We collectively insist that science intervene on our behalf; intervene to make nature comply with our needs.
Nature is not going to comply, to behave. She will do what she will do, aggravated by our bizarre attempts to make her better. She will likely continue to challenge civilization’s toehold. But she’s not the problem, she’s the background and the womb. Civilization is the problem.
Where do I go for answers? I go to my preparations, my vigilance, my gratitudes and my family. I go to the vast tapestry of excellent memories of farming’s rewards. The fresh memory of the life of our old stock dog Lucky continues to speak to me of the need to keep close the courage of our convictions. It is one of those sustaining and bolstering intangibles that would glue our complex biological universe together. Against all odds that mother over there stands her ground to protect her young. Beyond all reason that grandfather behind you sacrifices himself so lives he reveres may continue. Scientists and theoreticians would have us believe that the complexity of life is mappable and should be mappable if we are to control it, to improve on it. Science loses much of its attraction/justification if we are to agree that nature may not ever be fully understood. Yet agree we do and always have. Nature is glorious in its mysteries.
Whether it be the full force of directed disgust, or the pleasant crippling that comes of happy tears, whether it be the tiny new plant that forces itself through the pavement towards the sunlight, or the intense purposefulness of honey bees, all these things and a billion more remind us, whenever we allow ourselves to be reminded, that life is magical and wondrous. And that life needs us to be good, productive, respectful, beneficial members of nature’s order. No where in there is any hint of justification for the sort of arrogance and conceit that would excuse let alone encourage that we meddle with the chemical building blocks of life. No where in there do we find any justification for a marriage of commerce and governance. Where do we see the rationale for war, for poverty, for hunger, for vulgar stupid media circus, for professional politicians? Where do we find any goodness in mob rule and the fiat of social networking?
The goodness comes of those tiny little moments that swell us with pain and momentary understanding. I recall Lucky, after we had an altercation because he chased a heifer back down the loading chute the other way. I broke a stick, yelled my fool head off, called him unforgiveable names and told him to go home – no, I yelled at him to go home. And when I finally retrieved the heifer and got her loaded in the trailer, took a deep breath and let my right hand drop to my side I felt his breath and then Lucky’s tongue lick my wrist asking quietly “I’m sorry, just tell me what you want me to do.”