Can People Ever Be Close to Nature?

Peter Clarke
5 min readJul 16, 2021

Growing up in small, coastal towns in the Pacific Northwest, I always felt at home in nature. And of course I felt close to it, as some of the most beautiful forestland in the world was right outside my doorstep. The forests, the mountains, the beaches — I spent far more time exploring these places than I ever did walking around malls or any other urban environment.

But one day when I was away at college in Bellingham, Washington, something happened to make me question my relationship to nature. It was subtle, but it stuck with me. I was out with a friend walking along the waterfront as the sun began to set. She was the type of person who not only enjoyed spending time out in nature, but formed her identity around being outdoorsy.

It struck me suddenly that she was annoyed, or possibly disappointed, in the lack of interest I was showing to all the nature-y things happening in the tide pool we’d stopped beside. It was true that my attention was only about 10% on the tide pool. Another 10% was on the sunset. The rest of my attention was given to the people around — girls jogging by, couples holding hands by the water, people throwing a frisbee…

Not intending to offend my friend, I renewed my efforts to appreciate the life in the tide pool. But I had to admit to myself that it was all a little dull. Also, I couldn’t help noticing how she wasn’t exactly dedicating her full attention to the tide pool either. It seemed that quite a lot of her attention was being directed at me and my lack of interest in the tide pool.

There’s a common idea that people are growing increasingly estranged from nature. Our move away from nature is nothing new; it has been happening for thousands of years. But we’ve really started to feel it now that we spend so much time interacting with digital spaces. For many of us, our digital lives feel even more real than our lives out in the “natural” world.

I’m not too concerned about finding a clean line between what’s natural and what’s not natural. Is a bird’s nest natural? If so, then why isn’t the Winchester Mansion natural? Both are examples of mammals building species-specific homes. I’m also not interested in speculating about whether natural things are generally better than unnatural things. In this debate, it seems that everything exists…

--

--

Peter Clarke

Author of “The Singularity Survival Guide” and Editor at JokesLiteraryReview.com. Read more at petermclarke.com. Follow me on Twitter @HeyPeterClarke