“On Getting Rid of Nature” by the Absurd Naturalist

Absurd Naturalist3As a naturalist, I’m supposed to study nature, though it’s hard to know where to start. It’s all so nebulous and confusing. So I propose that we get rid of nature completely. I am referring here, of course, to the word, not the thing itself. Despite the plethora of books published with smug titles such as The End of Nature and despite the efforts of dedicated despoilers around the globe, the complete termination of nature is nowhere near as easy as it sounds.

We all know what nature is. Or do we? Does your definition of nature include slime molds? Bat ticks? Lizard scat? How about that disgusting sound Uncle Ralph makes after dinner? Or Uncle Ralph himself?

Does it include time and the curvature of space? Quantum energy, quasars, and quesadillas? Does it include Big Bang, Big Bird, and bigamy?

Suffice it to say, it is all these things and more—anything and everything in the entire known universe, not to mention all the unknown universes.

One nice thing about being a naturalist is that you never need to worry about running out of material. Indeed, nature is material, and all the energy wrapped up in it.

By now you have probably noted that I don’t capitalize the word nature. Those who do so are beyond hope.

When we try to put a spin on nature, things get even more befuddled. There are almost as many quotations for the n word as there are for life, truth, and God. Thus, we find writers down through the ages referring to nature as a kind parent, but a merciless stepmother; a diseased thing from the grave, but also the art of God; too noble for the world, but equaling the stupidity of man. And we are told that nature does nothing uselessly, never deceives us, never makes blunders, and that all of its models are beautiful.

Oh, please. Have you ever taken a good hard look at a platypus? Or an aardvark? Or even your own belly button? Can such a nature be trusted? And when I hear about quarks, muons, and hadrons, pulsars, hyperspace, and imaginary time, killer asteroids and mass extinctions and the vagaries of continental drift, I cannot help but think that here lies a nature out of control.

Though I might excuse an 18th century poet like William Wordsworth for writing something so fatuous as: “Come forth into the light of things/Let Nature be your teacher,” naturalists should know better. Yet there are some today who, while poking about in ant hills or contemplating bear dung, still insist that by studying nature closely we might learn more about its inner workings and come to understand its overall scheme of things.

Poppycock! What can we possibly learn from a nature that spends over 135 million years developing dinosaurs in every shape and color and then, for no apparent reason, makes them all go extinct so that today children have nothing but plastic models to play with? Is this the sort of role model you want teaching your kids?

And what kind of order is it that gives us brains big enough to invent H-bombs, CD’s, and silly putty, but denies us what we really want—which is wings—and instead gives them to houseflies, flying fish, and even fruit bats?

In fact, the more scientists discover about this supposed nature teacher of ours, the stranger it becomes. We are told that nothing is as it seems, that everything is relative, and that someday the universe may get all squished together again, unless it keeps expanding forever, which is fine by me. Indeed, nature is not only strange, it’s more ridiculous than the human mind can ever comprehend.

We need a more realistic term, elegant but concise—a word that says exactly what we mean and won’t be put up on a pedestal. I propose the word “stuff.” Say it softly and let your lips linger on that final “fffff” sound. What better way to capture all the bounce and fluff of our weird wild universe? Now say it loudly and let it echo through your head with primordial force. STUFF! Now go back and say “nature.” See the difference?

Thus, nature study would become simply stuff study. Cereal companies would label their products 100% all stuffy. Mother Nature—whoever she is—would become Mother Stuff. And naturalists would become stuffalists.

On second thought, maybe we should stick with the old word for now.
                                                     ©Gene Twaronite 2014

Originally published in 5enses August 2014  http://www.5ensesmag.com/on-getting-rid-of-nature/

Selfies from Mother Nature

Ever since the Oxford Dictionary people proclaimed “selfie” as the word of the year for 2013, I’ve been struggling to find a way to use it in one of my essays. It would not be my first choice. As a word, it has all the charm of that scummy ring of hairs at the bottom of your bathtub drain. But in writing, as in life, sometimes one just has to go with the flow.

So I got to thinking about what kinds of photo self-portraits old Mother Nature would post, assuming she even had a smartphone. They might go something like this:

Here I am sitting by a tidal pool at the start of it all—over three and a half billion years ago—when life first appeared on this planet. Welcome to my kitchen. They’re too tiny to see now, but in these waters chains of complex molecules are slowly coming together. Wait till you see what they become.

And here I am at the bottom of the sea during what you humans call the Cambrian Period. It was one of my favorite times, when the diversity of living things on this earth literally exploded. The creature in my hand may look like a horseshoe crab, but it’s actually a kind of trilobite. Paleontologists have discovered over 20,000 different species from every continent. Must confess, I got a bit carried away with the cute little critters. They were the first animals with complex eyes. They ruled the seas for nearly 300 million years, and then they were gone. Oh well, time to move on.

Here’s me riding a Triceratops—yippee, ride ‘em, cowgirl! We’re nearly at the end of the Mesozoic Era when dinosaurs of every description ruled the earth. I have a little surprise for them.

You see this big shadow where I’m standing? I’m on what humans will later call the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico. It’s going to get dark around here real fast. That’s because a huge asteroid is directly overhead and just about to strike the earth. When that puppy hits, all those dinosaurs will be history. Have to admit, I hate to see them go. But 165 million years is long enough. Out with the old, in with the new, I say.

Here I am at the beach under clear blue skies again. Boy, my “little” asteroid sure made a mess of things. Couldn’t see the sun for years. It got so cold I had to put on my woolies. But it’s over now, and we’re at the beginning of the Cenozoic Era. OK, I admit, there were a lot of casualties besides the dinosaurs. Over three quarters of all living things on earth went extinct. Evolution is a messy business, and sometimes you just have to hurry things along a little. But fortunately I still have plenty of stuff to work with. See my squirrel-like animal friend here? He doesn’t look like much. But he and his warm-blooded kin are about to become the next big thing. Humans sometimes refer to this era as the Age of Mammals, but it could also be called the Age of Flowers. Just look at the beautiful magnolia in back of me.

I’m standing at the edge of Grand Canyon, one of my most sublime creations. It gets more hits on Facebook than Madonna or Justin Timberlake, whoever they are. It still amazes me after all these years what you can accomplish with a little uplift and erosion. I don’t much cotton to politicians, but there was one by the name of Teddy Roosevelt who said it best: “Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages (that’s me) have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”

Here’s Lucy and me lakeside in what humans now call Ethiopia. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s going to be famous someday. Smile for all your future followers, Lucy. There, I got it—great one. She’s not much for words, but she’s one of the earliest humans. Soon she will die—sorry, Lucy—for life was very hard back then, especially if there’s a big cat like the one over there that’s about to eat you. In about 3.2 million years, give or take a month, human scientists will discover some of her bones and go gaga over them. 

Think I’ll go online to check out what pix you humans are posting these days. Oh dear—what is that? It looks like somebody’s… Gross! And there’s more. After all these years I thought there was nothing that could shock me. I was wrong. What are you people thinking?  Hmmmm.… maybe it’s time for another asteroid.            

                                               ©Gene Twaronite 2014        

Originally published in 5enses April 2014   http://www.5ensesmag.com/selfies-from-mother-nature/