Nature is an agreement. Just like the nude beach. Here you keep your breasts and your crotch covered, There you drop everything and act like it is the most ordinary thing in the world that everyone is suddenly walking around naked. That is also how we deal with nature nowadays. We make an agreement with each other that this or that piece of the country is ‘nature’, and put a sign next to it and a fence around it.
By TRACY METZ
Nature itself must of course stick to this agreement – no thorns, please, no bites and certainly no flooding! – and it must stick to the budget. After all, we have invested a lot of time and money in making nature.
Nature is also a feeling. A symbol for an escape from the rush of everyday life, a time and a place for reflection. We project onto nature our yearning for that which is larger than ourselves, larger than life, something which is not subject to the latest hype, fad and fashion. Nature represents eternal value.
There is something in us which longs for nature precisely because it is beyond our control. At the same time, paradoxically, we cannot bear the fact that it is beyond our control. So while we find the naturalness of nature attractive, at the same time we feel the urge to get a grip on it, to control it. Wildness must be tempered.
Nature is also an image. You might even say: without images… no nature. Without Discovery Channel no wild animals in the Serengeti, without amateur video no tsunami, without scented candles no autumn smells, without a cd or a ringtone no birdsong, without screensavers no sunsets!
Take the milk cartons of the Campina brand: smart blue cartons with drawings on the side, almost as big as the cartons themselves, of an old-fashioned milk bottle. Pure nature, these pictures that you can superimpose on any surface, on any object.
Agreement + feeling + image. It’s a surefire combination. Let’s call it a collective delusion. That is why we can agree in all seriousness to call a climbing wall in a business park the Matterhorn, or that a snow-covered garbage heap is a skiing village, that a soggy corner of a pasture is a nature area, that a decorated expedition hall is a tropical beach or a flower field. All a matter of convention and mutual agreement.
Nature made to order, cut to size, tailored to fit the needs of us, the hasty mobile consumer. A nature of convenience, a green camping mattress that we can roll out wherever it suits us. Shortly after the tsunami in Asia the literary critic Arnold Heumakers wrote: ,,It is hard to deny that western man (and thanks to globalization this no longer applies only to western man) has succeeded better and better at humanizing nature, at adapting it to his own needs. Our most intimate interactions with nature all pass through the filter of culture. Our nature consists of pets, milk from a bottle or a carton, meat that is pre-cut to convenient size, the mowing of the lawn, a stroll in a park or a reserve, a vacation in a tropical paradise.’’
So what is nature to us nowadays? That is no longer a physical place that you have to actually go to in order to experience it. It comes to you, and you can take it with you anywhere, on your mobile phone with multi-thousand pixel color screen, on your laptop or your dvd-player. Nature is going virtual. It can be summoned at any moment and have a handy on-off button. That image and that feeling – that has become our image of nature, and it is just as mobile as you are.
Written by Tracy Metz, published in the Next Nature Book.