We’re Losing Touch With Nature

Last week, on the first evening of autumn, I drove out to the county home of some friends. They live in the original house of a farmstead that is now subdivid­ed into lots for new prefab houses and mobile homes. I hate to see these old farms broken up; but, then again, my friends could nev­er have afforded this rustic farm­house, had not the farm itself been sold out from underneath it.

They weren’t home, so I took a walk in the direction of the adja­cent farms which had not yet been sold to the developers. Walking through a scruffy woods, I came upon three dead beasts which had been dragged to edges of a prop­erty to rot.

I also live on a farm, renting the old made-over slave quarters, and I’m amazed how many times on my walks I come upon a sick or dead animal. Once I asked a former farm manager about it, and he said he could count on los­ing 10 percent. ”With the auctions the way they are nowadays,” he said, “stock coming from all over, you never know for sure what you’re buying. They can always pump up a sick cow for a few days with drugs, enough time to get rid of it.”

I reflected back to my father’s 40-acre farm in the 1950s, and I couldn’t recollect one animal dying because it fell over in a field and nobody knew it was sick. ”You don’t call a vet for a farm animal anymore,” the man contin­ued. “Vets are for pets or show animals—where the money is.”

I walked out of the woods to the top of an open field. Finally I came to the edge of a woods where the hill declined sharply into a ravine. The sun was now pushing its way through a long day’s overcast, and the late summer grass was a beautiful rose tan in the twilight. But something in the scene felt eerie and differ­ent. What?

Suddenly I noticed I was in total silence. No road sounds, no mach­ine sounds of any kind, a rare mo­ment when even the sky was clear of airplanes. As if internally thrust back in time, I felt primi­tive again, at one with the rarity of simple quiet and magnified by solitude and a golden sunset.

The spell lasted, of course, only until the next high jet flew over, or some distant fourwheeler, or buzzsaw, broke the silence; I can’t remember what. But the unusual­ness of the moment had already revealed a sad truth to me—that I was in love with a rural nature that is essentially gone and will never come again.

These farmer’s fields, for exam­ple. They were not loved fields, the way farmers’ loved their fields when I was young. In a cer­tain sense, they were abandoned fields. No farmer had walked re­cently into the recesses of this farm and looked lovingly over his fields.

And those beasts, dragged into the woods to rot, were not loved beasts. Every, cow my dad milked had a name, a personality. And these woods were not a loved woods anymore. Woods have be­come so much lumber. They’ve lost their grandness, their mys­tery. They’re small and scruffy. All the big trees have been long ago harvested.

As a compensation for falling out of love with nature, people falsely glorify nature everywhere. Car ads invariably show the car being driven in a pristine wilder­ness setting. Cigarette ads depict someone fishing or riding a horse, or perhaps two lovers strolling through a first-growth forest. We picture ourselves in intimate moods with nature all the time, but the actual experience rarely happens.

I, too, in spite of efforts to stay in touch, in spite of living in this beautiful and spacious rural state, don’t get out as I used to. And on this first day of autumn, I saw clearly the fatality of it—the loss of depth that will accompany more and more indoor living, TV watching, workaday routines, congested traffic. We have been for millions of years, from our be­ginnings, outdoor people. We ev­olved our humanness essentially out-of-doors, integrated with the outside.

But that is over now. We are so estranged we don’t know we’re es­tranged; too ignorant to realize that we’re ignorant; and our flat indifference to rural nature and wilderness is blistering the planet, poisoning the waters and soil and air, destroying the very depths of health and beauty that we once shared as our birthright.

It was getting dark. Feeling very vulnerable, with my new sense of loss, I hated to walk back past the rotting beasts again. But it was the only way I knew to get home.

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