An Unpredictable Nature

Nature is not always benign.”

Mark Tercek and Johnathan Adams, Nature’s Fortune

When she went to pick up the pile of laundry, she discovered a rattlesnake hidden underneath. Slowly, she dropped the laundry back in place.

Married to a rancher and living on a ranch for years, things like that didn’t worry her too much. Everyone else was off working, and she was alone in the house (pre-cell phone), but was afraid that if she left the snake alone, it could end up any where in the house.

So she pulled up her rocker and grabbed her knitting and waited for someone to return. She kept an eye on the pile, and whenever the snake tried to crawl out, she stamped her foot and it went back.

When her husband returned an hour or so later, he got the shovel out to kill the snake.

“No you don’t!” she said, “You’re not going to get blood all over my new carpet. You catch it and take it outside.”

Knowing his wife angry was far worse than an angry rattlesnake, he complied.

Our rancher friends knew that nature was not always just pretty and nice. She could be mean and nasty and even deadly. In the city, it’s easy to forget that nature can be a bitch. We think that we’re in charge.

Every few years we’re reminded of our lack of control when we have major snow, rain, hailstorms, tornadoes, flooding, heat waves, wildfire or landslides. Mostly those phenomenon occur elsewhere, and we get a thrill of excitement and relief that they occurred far from us and the people we know. We send our prayers and sometimes money to those in need, and are grateful that it wasn’t us.

But even on a normal day we can be irritated by nature. Branches fall off the trees, leaves muck up the gutters, weeds invade our perfect lawns, and birds, insects and animals behave inappropriately (in our opinion). But nature is chaos; it is the un-managed activity of life. It surges and wanes to a rhythm uncontrolled by us; doing its own thing.

Nature will have its way. There’s a dandelion growing in the asphalt of the median on a freeway where I often drive. It’s hard to imagine a less hospitable place for a flower, but there it is. And, we know this will be. Whether it’s the spring snowstorm, the summer tornado, the winter ice-storm or the replicating dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, we know that nature will out.

The challenge is to learn to live with nature, and possibly embrace it, with all its joys and flaws. In his book, Subirdia, John Marzluff decribes the “pigeon paradox,” as learning to love the “rats with wings.” We need to realize that, like humans, nature comes with a variety of attitudes and characteristics.

Indeed, it is that unpredictability that we seek in nature. We want to discover something new, alongside the comfortable, old features we come to expect.

The suburbs dream of violence. Asleep in their drowsy villas, sheltered by benevolent shopping malls, they wait patiently for the nightmares that will wake them into a more passionate world.”

J.G.Ballard, Kingdom Come

Human nature tries to create and organize order and structure. We theorize that the universe is born of chaos, and seem surprised that nature is no different. Wild, crazy, unpredictable; that’s what entrances us about nature. The sunset is different every day; the wind changes and the clouds move in strange patterns. The light reflects change due to temperature, moisture in the air and our own openness to “see.” We see it all with changing perspective, both physical and mental.

One of the gifts I received as a kid from my father was to learn to not just look at nature, but to see nature. We used to try to see the subtlety of a landscape; to see the hidden things, the unmoving animals and interesting quirks of plants or rocks. We shared these unexpected treasures with each other and took joy in their strangeness and surprise. It not only made us feel closer to nature, but closer to each other.

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