Notes from my Knapsack 2-27-14
Nature, not always maternal
The problem is, nature wants to kill you.
That may be a bit overstated. Nature, as a whole (let alone that whole ambiguous formulation of "Mother Nature"), does not care one whit whether you live or die.
But it does seem from time to time that there's a bias to Nature in that, all things being equal, it's better at killing you than keeping you going.
We tend to live most of our modern lives at one remove, or two or three, from Nature. The weather forecaster jokes about looking out their non-existent window, but even their depictions of Nature in the raw are mediated through radar and video, instruments and weather spotters. You get numbers and maps and arrows, and a sense – at one remove – of what the outdoors is like.
Our youth insist on their Constitutional right to wear no more than a hoodie into sub-zero weather, pointing out, not without reason, that they're going ten feet to a car, maybe thirty feet from that car to the school or elsewhere, and they don't need to bundle up like Admiral Peary heading for the pole.
Robert Falcon Scott they're a little less clear about. I guess it's all in the history you know, and understand.
Raccoon Creek has leapt its banks and flooded her valley, enjoying an abundance of water and carving new paths of drainage. The roiling surface hints at threat, but few of us go near to sense the strange new power this "creek" holds in spate.
Not long ago, with ice atop it, these friendly neighborly scenic waters killed a friend, a professor, a local resident. It was the result of a bravely intended act, but it turned awry in an instant, and death was the result.
More recently, another death in another scenic, nearby, often passed spot. There are questions and investigations still going on, but for me, there's a question: did he know? How clearly did he understand: this weather can kill you. Subzero temperatures are hungry for your warmth, and the valleys hold the chill which, without even a few thin layers (which, in layers, can make all the difference in the world, heat trapped in the air spaces between), so terribly quickly is drained from your body.
There is a suspicion I have, unfounded, unwarranted, that there was among all the other factors at play that night, a dreadful lack of understanding that Nature is perfectly capable of committing murder without a second thought. It's not personal, it's no more intentional than a cliff edge is threatening . . . but you are wise to see it as such.
I love to invite youth and families to enjoy the outdoors, and to value wilderness, and to love Nature as our home and our true hearth, which takes tending and care just like a cooking fire. These feelings are still in my heart.
But perhaps my question is whether or not our detachment from Nature makes an even greater hazard for the unwary, that our sense of separateness is what can hasten our demise under the wrong circumstances. It's through an understanding of the depths of what Nature truly is (and isn't) that we can find our place and our security, and even beauty, while standing not too close to a sheer cliff, and watching the sun set on an ice cold night.
The stars inspire, but they look on with a distant, thoughtless twinkle. It takes our time and attention to arrange them into constellations, and human stories shared to learn how to find direction from them.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him about your relationship to Nature at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.