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Ruminations at the woodpile.

A few years ago, we installed a woodstove in our home, black cast iron with airtight doors and a catalytic burner to squeeze the last Btu out of a log. Our original purpose was to save money on gas bills, and we have, but in the process of cutting and gathering wood, stoking up the fire, and taking out the ashes, we have gained more than a mere financial advantage. We have reopened our lines of communication with the earth.

When you cut, split, haul, stack, and feed a cord of wood to the stove, there is no doubt where the heat comes from. The line of supply is direct from nature's provender. No middlemen are involved, no energy conglomerates or pipeline companies. You simply find a tree, preferably one that has been dead for a while, saw it down, cut it up, and haul it home. As you go about the daily chores of tending the fire, it becomes increasingly clear that it is not the giants of commerce or a benevolent government that supply the necessities of life. It is the earth.

That is no profound discovery. It is, in fact, an obvious and basic truth, but it has become so obscured by the complexities of our economic and political systems that it seems to be a truth forgotten. When we pay the gas bill, we have a fleeting interaction with the utility company, but when we work up a tree, we have a relationship of long duration with nature. We invest some time and sweat and get a pleasurable day outdoors and enough wood for a month of indoor comfort in return.

More important, wood gathering-like gardening, hunting, fishing, and berry picking-places man's role in nature in a better perspective. When there are no intermediaries in the line of supply, our involvement with and dependence upon the natural environment become as clear as spring water. Half-truths and excuses for environmental degradation are harder to accept. The artificial separation of humankind from the natural world breaks down, and we realize we are as much a part of nature as the oak tree that provides the firewood to warm a winter evening.

Historically we have been a nation at war with nature, wresting food, fiber, and minerals from her tenacious grasp. In the process, we have come to think of ourselves as separate from and somehow above the natural environment. We are the movers and doers who have the power to bend nature to our will. We are imaginative, inventive, intelligent. We have opposable thumbs and manual dexterity, language and tools. And yet we must eat, drink, breathe, and sleep just as other animals do. In spite of the fact that we demand elaborate plumbing, we produce bodily waste just as other animals do, and ultimately we share the fate of all living things: We die. For all of our self-importance, we are a part of nature, participants in a finely tuned, carefully orchestrated symphony of life.

If this idea were ingrained in our collective consciousness, we would not permit the environmental degradation that has become a fact of modern life. We would see it for what it really is-a form of selfmutilation, if not slow, deliberate suicide. The health problems suffered by the people of Love Canal, New York, and Times Beach, Missouri, are dramatic cases in point, but the greater danger is the more pervasive and subtle environmental degradation that seldom makes headlines. Foot by foot, acre by acre, we are upsetting the natural balances essential to our survival. We do this because we believe our economic well-being requires us to accept environmental tradeoffs. Progress and prosperity will not be curtailed by a few environmental eccentrics who object to poisonous air, unpotable water, and the careless dumping of toxic waste.

I am not a dreamer. I do not believe we are going to travel back through time and once again become a nation of yeomen farmers and cottage craftsmen who interact with nature on a daily and personal level. We are an industrial society, essentially urban, incredibly affluent, somewhat spoiled and greedy. We are all too willing to accept an environmental tradeoff if it will result in more plunder to ease our journey through life.

Our environmental problems are really caused by vanity, a pathological denial that we are biological creatures bound by natural law. Environmental problems abound-pollution, erosion, acid rain, global warming-and the simple truth is that our survival depends upon our willingness to confront them head-on. This will not happen until each of us accepts the notion that we are indeed participants in the natural process. When we degrade the environment, we degrade ourselves. Should we succeed in destroying the environment, we will vanish from the face of the earth.

The time has come for a new ethic that distinguishes between wealth and the quality of our lives. We cannot continue to squander our natural heritage and despoil our home for the accumulation of mere trinkets. True wealth is a vital, active, energetic, and healthy planet, a biosphere that fairly oozes with the force of life. Until this becomes universally accepted, the quality of our environment will continue to decline.

We are children of the earth, inextricably tied to the power of the sun and the soil to generate and sustain life. This may be more apparent to those of us lucky enough to take our fuel from a woodlot and an occasional meal from field or stream, but it is true for everyone. The earth will sustain us only if we sustain the earth.
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Title Annotation:man's relationship to nature
Author:Hardy, Joe
Publication:American Forests
Date:Sep 1, 1991
Words:930
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