Illustration: Mary E. Dear. Autumn, 1854.
Observation of the natural world should always ideally be seen outside of the boundaries of the artificially imposed human one. We should never rely on shop windows to tell us where we are in the year's cycle, but should always follow the seasons through their regular rhythm, as seen through the outward signs of plants and wildlife.
All of us can commune with nature regardless of how urban we feel. Few of us can say that we are not within sight of at least a smattering of trees or piece of urban scrubland. Concentrating on the sigh of wind through tree branches, even if faint above traffic noise, or the drone of insects amongst wild flowers, often seen unfairly by many as invasive weeds, should be a regular habit for all of us.
Most of human history has been spent close to and enveloped in the natural world and even though for the first time in our history more of us live in urban rather than rural environments, this does not mean that we should not fight to stay connected, or more importantly to reconnect, to the real and ancestrally connected world of flora and fauna.
In the creative world, it is just as important to remain connected to the natural world, whether that be through inspiration or reflection. Understanding that the human species is an element of the planet, rather than one that has a separate identity and destiny, and continually highlighting that connection with the planet, seems a particularly relevant and immediate need to both reflect outwards on to the public and also to have as part of a fundamental foundation rooted in the creative world.
The ideal of making us all aware of our fundamental organic connection with the real world of plant and varied species, rather than that of the artificially contrived urban construct, often seemingly divorced and devoid of natural markers, seems paramount. This does not necessarily mean of course that human constructs are not worthy and meaningful in their own right. Our interaction with each other, our complex social networks, the building blocks of our civilization, are important to us, they make us in some ways at least, who we are as a species. However, this can only ever be a part of the story that is humanity. If we persist in disconnecting ourselves from the natural world, withdrawing more and more into a world of novelty, artificiality and the ephemeral, then we risk losing the profoundness of our natural connections, the connections that kept the human species aware of its purpose in the cycle of life and made each individual, no matter how small they may have appeared in the overall picture, an important part of the natural wheel of life.
Therefore, even a small-scale commune with nature, whether just a walk in a park to notice the budding of trees or the falling of leaves, an awareness of the migration of birds, the movement of insects and wildlife, is an affirming connection with the passing of seasons and therefore a connection to the planet and its ecosphere. It takes us, if only briefly, out of the illusion of our perceived reality, the human construct of the contemporary world of office, street, car and shop, and into the only world that really exists, that of the natural environment.
This natural environment is the one that we consciously or unconsciously push further and further away from us every time we condone the expansion of our towns and cities through the building of new shopping malls, housing complexes, roads, cinemas and airports. The line between the real and artificially contrived worlds becomes one that is increasingly out of our reach. Many children for example, have no real connection with the large-scale natural world as a living entity as it is so far removed from their everyday experience.
Relatively speaking, we have been present as a species on this planet for such a short space of time. If we look at the strata system in rock formations, much of human history would be hard pressed to make up a thin, almost imperceptible line within the rock. How disturbing then that we could contribute so much damage and such fundamental changes to the planet we share with every other species, in such a short space of time.
Although the damage we have wilfully unleashed on the planet is irreparable and it would be naive of us to imagine that we can easily fix what we have done, we are at a crossroads in our development as a species. We have been given an opportunity to make fundamental decisions concerning future generations as yet unborn. Probably the most fundamental decision we need to make is whether we indulge in our present penchant for short-term convenience of lifestyle without asking about any of the consequences for that convenience, or we decide to take the more difficult but ultimately infinitely rewarding route, that of a deeper and more fundamental connection and responsibility with our environment, and one that honestly deals with the consequences of our actions.
Perhaps in some respects, the decision has been made for us. The phenomenon of violent and sudden expressions of climate change seems to be the only real way of disturbing us from our self-induced urban dream, one of constant and never-ending progress and convenience. While many people in the poorer parts of the world have had to deal with extreme climate fluctuations for a while now, many in Europe and North America seemed immune, it was just something that always happened in those parts of the world, nothing for us to worry about. However, as recent events have shown, climate change is no longer one that conveniently pays notice of contrived human boundaries. Therefore, we can all now face up to the consequences of our actions, not just some sections of the human population in a faraway place who are used to flooding.
Although all this sounds a little bleak, it need not be. Although we can no longer hide in our cities and believe that we are beyond the phenomenon of nature, Hurricane Sandy showed us that, we can begin to make overtures to the natural world. By making and remaking connections, understanding our position as one of a range of species on the planet and not the only one that matters, forming networks with the natural world, inviting that world into our cities and towns on a much more fundamental level than the odd public park. The creation of urban farms and orchards, the encouragement of complex biospheres of flora and fauna to replace monocultures such as lawns of grass, the end of urban expansion at the expense of the natural environment around it, the encouragement of public transport over the private car, all can be part of the purpose of reconnecting the urban with the natural, a new symbiosis of human artificial culture with that of the natural. A means by which the cycle of nature, through its unending seasons, can be a fundamental part of the natural rhythm of both urban and rural human, regardless.
by John Hopper