Luke McGuff (holyoutlaw) wrote,
Luke McGuff

About Nature Intrudes

(Note: This is also the “About” page, but I thought I’d post it here as well.)

I used to cling tightly to a chimeric vision of nature as something pure and somehow prehuman and to the idea that anything human-made removed a place from its natural status. But I have come to understand nature differently. Surely there is a continuum from a pure, undefiled wilderness to a trammeled concrete industrial area. But there is no place, we now know, as the relentlessly global impacts of climate change become increasingly understood, that humans have left untouched; and there is not place that the wild does not, in some small way, proclaim itself.
— Lyanda Lynn Haupt, Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness

This book — and the above quote as much as any other passage — changed my life. I’ve long thought the city was better than most people think it. I was never one to feel I had to get away, that the city was bad. We can’t all abandon the city for a mountainside slice of nature; if the world is going to be healed, it’s going to start here, in the city.

The idea of a continuum between nature and the built environment resonated strongly with me; with those words, Haupt had articulated thoughts that had been forming below my consciousness. In a short period of time, I also found William Cronon’s The Trouble with Wilderness, which briefly explained the evolution of the whole concept of wilderness and how it came to be seen as a thing so separate from our daily experience. Then I also found Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America by Jennifer Price, which also looked at the irony of thinking of a national park as “nature” with its ADA accessible trails and signage, or finding “nature” at the mall.

I first encountered Haupt’s writing in a class at Antioch University, “Birds in the Imagination and the Field.” I liked the essay we read well enough to get Crow Planet from the library — and soon enough to buy it. Every word about seeing nature in our day to day lives resonated with me.

I liked the Birds class so much that I signed up for another Environmental class — “Nature Awareness Skills.” One exercise we did was find a sit spot — an easily accessible but remote location. We were to go there several times a week, at different times of the day. I selected North Beach Park, a nature area a two miles north of my house.

North Beach Park was sadly neglected at that point. It had all the markers of the urban wetland: Tires, rusting machines, weeds, litter from partiers. I’d visited it several times before on photographic expeditions, and grew especially fond of it during the sit spot exercise.

Though surrounded by the city, it was densely wooded and isolated enough that within a couple hundred feet of the entrance, the noises of the city were replaced by the wind in the trees, the bird song, the sound of the stream.

After doing the sit spot exercise, I wanted to find out more about North Beach Park. I wrote to an email dug up from a three year old flyer. The email got forwarded around the parks department, more names accumulating on the CC list with every exchange. At first they thought I wanted them to come and clean up the park — obviously, from its state, a low priority task for an already overstretched parks department, with many larger and more popular parks to worry about. When I said something about wanting to do an Earth Day clean up in the park, they pounced.

The more I learned about North Beach Park in particular and urban forestry and stewardship in general, the more fascinated I became by the problem. What does it mean to become a steward for the urban forest? Who does this work? Why? What are the rewards for the work? How can you make a plan for fifty and more years — especially since I’d avoided, into my own 50s, making plans for more than two or three years into the future, if that.

These questions and others, and the experiences of working in the park, drove my education at Antioch. I hope to continue to explore these ideas here, using the tools of writing and photography; with reading books and essays on the subjects of restoration; and with the practical experience of getting my hands dirty and shoes muddy.

Mirrored from Nature Intrudes. Please comment over there.

Tags: about, commentary, why

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