A few thoughts on our connection with nature

So I was reading the online edition of the Chronicle this morning, as I almost always do, and I came across an article about “The Reality House,” which was featured at a home show in Florida. This article, and The Reality House, got me thinking about a few things.

The first thing was my father and I. We are both pathological bachelors. We cherish our own space, to the point what when we are in partnerships, our partners are not, in fact, welcome to move into our homes, and we are not interested in moving into theirs. I enjoy the freedom that being single allows me. I enjoy the fact that I woke up at three this morning and baked some bread, and no one questioned me about it, although the felines looked a little confused, and then I went back to sleep. I like that if I have a sudden passion to roast a chicken, or rearrange the furniture in the living room, or clean the toilet, I can do so, without consulting anyone for their opinion on the matter. Without having to tiptoe about because the other person isn’t up yet. I enjoy having guests, for brief periods of time, and I enjoy hosting them in my home and about town.

But really, my space requirements are not that extreme. My house is small. It’s a one bedroom with several large closets (one of which, in fact, is large enough to be the guest room, as it accommodates a bed and end table quite nicely). The design of my house is really due to its nature–it’s the second floor of an old Victorian, so I have a lot of floorspace to work with, but because of the pitched roof, a large part of it is unusable. The person who turned my house into a flat did a superb job of utilizing the available space and making it lovely and livable. Really, my only complaints about it designwise is that I wish there were windows along the south side, although they would have to be skylights. That and I really do need to paint, this is getting embarrassing, only I hate painting, so if you like to paint would you please come over and help me?

I love my house. The only thing is, it’s in the middle of town. Which is sometimes great. I can walk to work. I can walk to the Headlands. I can walk, really, pretty much anywhere I need to go, including the laundrymat in a pinch, and the movie theatre, and the library, and the post office. I love the downtown nature of my house for this reason.

But the thing is, I miss nature. I miss an expanse of trees and plants out my window, instead of a view of more houses and streets. I miss darkness at night, instead of streetlights. I miss silence and peace, instead of traffic and my landlords downstairs and meth heads fighting in the alley. In an ideal world, I would simply transplant my house to a little wooded place, and become a recluse, because I’m not really a fan of society, really.

I struggle between these two placings, because they illustrate a conflict in my personal moral system. I think that all of us should live in highly dense areas of urbanization, allowing large areas of open space and farming areas to flourish around us. I also believe that there should be way less humans on earth, so that we can all live in small, dense villages, rather than megacities. I like the village style of living. I should be walking everywhere, you see, not driving. Driving, really, is something that be reserved for once or maybe twice a week. If I ever buy a car that doesn’t suck and resell it, the guy on the used car will say “this car was previously owned by a little young lady who only drove it to the supermarket on Wednesdays.” Walking everywhere is…great. It really is. To begin with, I get fresh air and exercise. I connect more with my community. I say hello to people I see on the street. I see the changes in the living matrix around me and I think about them. Sometimes it takes a little longer to get places, but it’s worth it. It’s worth it to budget my time and allow myself to slow down, rather than rushing willy nilly everywhere. Because my living in town means that there’s one more stretch of woods that is still woods, instead of houses. Yet I cherish and adore nature, and I want to live in it. Maybe my solution is that I should be living on the edge of a dense urban area, and hope it doesn’t expand. Suburban sprawl is the bane of my existence. And it’s largely due to people seeking to get out of “the city” and into “nature”, so they build alarmingly large houses where there used to be nature. As someone who is committed to and loves nature, I really should be living in town and walking to the nature, rather than building a vanity house in the woods somewhere and driving everywhere I need to go because I live in the middle of nowhere. Even though my vanity house would be small. Even though by then I would hopefully have an income that didn’t require being in a work place. Because I should leave that nature to be itself, rather than inflicting myself upon it.

So here I am, reading about the reality house. Which, for one, is clearly designed for families. Which is all well and good. I like the idea of multiple generations living under one roof. Except that no one in America does it. As soon as the children grow up and go to college, you are left with all this empty space that was previously designated “for the kids.” Sometimes they become failures and move back home, because of course the only reason anyone would want to move back home is because they are a failure. But usually that’s a temporary state–they are expected to move out. So there’s my first problem. You build this hulking monstrosity (the reality house, for example, is 6,000 square feet–over six times the amount of space I need). And then it’s empty for most of its life. It’s sitting there, hulking, on the land. And most of it doesn’t get used. But it does, the reality house argues for itself. You see, we collect so much crap that we need giant houses to store it in. Oh.

It saddens me that small houses and simple living are not values in this society. I’m not a big consumer, unless it’s food or books. I have fairly minimal possessions, and I’m happy with them. I don’t crave a television, let alone multiple televisions. Sometimes I wish my furnishings were a little less shabby, or my carpeting was replaced by bamboo flooring, but I don’t need more, and I certainly don’t need more stuff. I wish that more people understood the values of less, because I think our society would benefit as a whole from more introspective thoughts and activities. We are losing our connection with nature at the same time we are destroying it, and I feel it’s already progressed to such a state that it’s unstoppable.

For the love of God, take a minute to actually go outside today. Walk to the nearest park or greenspace, and smell it. Stand in it for a moment. Bend down and pick up the earth and feel it in your hand. If it’s raining, get wet. If it’s sunny, get warm. Hug a tree. Marvel at this wonder all around you and ask yourself if you are really ready for it to be gone, forever, because of one reckless species.

Bill Bryson, in A Brief History of Nearly Everything, points out that life on earth is cyclical, and that species do rise and fall with time. The earth is a pretty hardy creation, and perhaps if humans do go extinct, as we will, eventually, with time, the earth will recover itself. But I do feel as though we are killing the earth, at least as we know it, and I think that sucks.

[green architecture]