Nature and the Wise Man: Two Extremes

There was once a harmless garter snake slithering through my neighbor’s yard, quite a small creature, that had the bad fortune to get noticed. My neighbor, now known colloquially as Whack-a-Snake, attacked the snake with great passion, not barehanded, but with a metal shovel.

A metal shovel. To dispatch a few ounces of snake.

The Whack-a-Snake incident illustrates how far removed Americans have become from their natural roots. If my neighbor had been at all in touch with her natural surroundings, she would have known such a snake was harmless.

Such unsolicited hostility towards nature is only one of the extremes. At the opposite end of the spectrum lies Bambi Syndrome. (I first heard this term described by Joel Salatin, a publisher of many entertaining books about nature and humanity.) People affected by Bambi Syndrome eat meat, but would never admit to themselves that the food on their plate was once a living, breathing creature. They would not dare harm an animal with their own hands, yet they buy the food and pretend they have somehow ended the “foul” cycle of life and death. But what is more foul: accepting that human beings are naturally at the top of the food chain, or denying that fact of life and self?

There is a pervading belief in modern America that humans are somehow unnatural. I disagree. Whether you believe that humanity evolved from lower life forms or was created by a higher one, we have our place in nature. How could we not? A human being is as natural as a Kodiak grizzly; as natural as a fern in the shade.

Homo sapiens, we call ourselves. Wise man. We will find our way again. I don’t think the answer involves going back to hunting and gathering. I think we will integrate the old and new. The answer to our separation problem is not more separation. The answer is integration, education, and above all, experience: the human experience, which cannot be divorced from our environmental cradle, a lively beacon drifting in cold space.

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