Wednesday Morning Muse

Standing out in the backyard with my morning coffee as the sun rises, it was still. There was absolutely no breeze stirring, an unusual occurrence for here, at least lately…Cool and damp with dew on the grass, my body warmed by the rising sun. I was astonished to note the background roar of traffic coming from the state highway a quarter of a mile away. At times it was drowning out even the morning sun salutation of the resident mockingbird. Car tires on expansion joints during the morning rush hour. It all gave special poignancy to this article in the NY Times by Paul Bloom pointed to by ODE in their daily good news email…

via The Way We Live Now – Natural Happiness – The Self-Centered Case for Environmentalism – NYTimes.com.

Why should we care about nature? Should we care about it for its own sake — or for our sake, because it happens to make us happy or healthy? These might not seem like the brightest questions. Few people need convincing that the destruction of rain forests, the mass extinction of species and the melting of the ice sheets in Greenland would all be very bad things. Do we really need to list the reasons?

After laying out the reasons we are/should be happy with modern life…It’s warm houses, soft beds, modern medicine…We get this observation…

There is a considerable mismatch between the world in which our minds evolved and our current existence. Our species has spent almost all of its existence on the African savanna. While there is debate over the details, we know for sure that our minds were not adapted to cope with a world of billions of people. The life of a modern city dweller, surrounded by strangers, is an evolutionary novelty.

Which tends to explain the call most of us feel for the “natural” world. It’s the reason I enjoyed that cup of coffee standing in the middle of ten acres of “meadow” surrounded by woods with only the barest hints of other people intruding. Of course, there is a generational difference between me and my children. Even with our vacations to state parks, my children do not have my love of the outdoors. They grew up with TV and computers in their rooms. I grew up with the b&w set in the living room…And it wasn’t on all that much of the time.

As kids we spent as much of our time outdoors as possible. Spring through fall, you couldn’t keep us indoors unless we were in school. Come summer we were out of the house from sunup till sundown, quite often later. Of course it helped that we didn’t grow up with houses that were refrigerated all summer. It was easier to get up and out when it was more comfortable outside…

Our hunger for the natural is everywhere. It is reflected in art: the philosopher Denis Dutton, in his book “The Art Instinct,” suggests that popular taste in landscape painting has been shaped by preferences that evolved for the African savanna. The appeal of the natural is also reflected in where we most want to live. People like to be close to oceans, mountains and trees.

So now we have an explanation for my photography and my “North Carolina Mountain Dreams“. Of course, there is also an ancestral calling back to the rougher, more varied topography that my ancestors called home. From the Appalachians to the Ozarks, from the hills of northern Missouri to the hill country of Texas my forefathers and mothers lived and died in unflat nature. My upbringing on the coastal plain of Texas has left me with a longing I didn’t even recognize for most of my life. Yes I enjoyed trips to the hill country, I flew over mountains on business trips, but, it wasn’t until I actually went “into” the mountains that I discovered what I was looking for all along…

(Biologist E. O.) Wilson emphasizes the spiritual and moral benefits of an attachment to nature, warning that we “descend farther from heaven’s air if we forget how much the natural world means to us.” But there are more tangible benefits as well. Many studies show that even a limited dose of nature, like a chance to look at the outside world through a window, is good for your health. Hospitalized patients heal more quickly; prisoners get sick less often. Being in the wild re­duces stress; spending time with a pet enhances the lives of everyone from autistic children to Alzheimer’s patients. The author Richard Louv argues that modern children suffer from “nature-deficit disorder” because they have been shut out from the physical and psychic benefits of unstructured physical contact with the natural world.

It seems that we can all benifit from a mornings coffee taken out with the sunrise. Call it a prescription from “Doc” Boyd and take a dose yourself tomorrow…I know I will

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