Returning home from nine days in New York City, I went to see local filmmaker Michelle Gisser’s latest opus, “Exit Route,” at the Tin Shed. Like her last movie, it celebrates the natural beauty of this region, and raises lots of angst and doubt about what harm the current mining renaissance might wreak. The film includes footage of the beauty hereabouts, reminding us that this, our home, is nearly paradise.
Statistics show that now, for the first time in human history, more people live in cities than in rural settings. By 2030, which is coming right up, two-thirds of us will be city-dwellers. (One third of them in dreadful slums.) It’s almost impossible for those who live amidst natural beauty to realize how ignorant billions of people are of nature. They’ve never been exposed to it. They’ve never been enchanted by the sound of wind in trees. Have never watched as hawks and ravens ride a spinning updraft of warm air. Have never slept beneath the stars or ever seen the stars.
Perhaps you’ve read about those NGOs which take tough inner-city kids in buses to the countryside to see their first real cow or even camp out in the woods. (The kids are kept awake all night by scary, unfamiliar sounds including oh, Good Jesus, mice and birds. Owl = ghost.) When asked about nature in urbanites’ lives, a friend of mine said, cynically, “The only nature city folks have ever really known is weather, sex, and food.”
On Saturday we took a pleasant walk in Central Park. The beautiful spring weather had brought out a lot of folks – still, just a tiny fraction of the city’s populace – to sunbathe, picnic with their kids, and walk their happy dogs. Quite a heart-warming scene. It’s odd to think that all Manhattan once resembled Central Park, with woods and meadows, even streams and lakes. But not no more.
Next day, we rode the subway out to Coney Island Beach. The beach was packed, to put it mildly, crammed full of folks who craved both sun and sea. I guess the scene was nature in some crowded, sweaty way, devoid both of tranquility and charm. A little like those mud-holes that you see in Africa on your TV, overcrowded with hippos and crocs.
We, here, who live in beauty at a peaceful country pace are both surprised and horrified when industry comes sniffing at our door. A lot of us were born elsewhere and know how bad the blight can get. Along The Turnpike, in New Jersey, where I lived when I was young, you’ll find immense industrial wastelands – oil refineries – mile after mile of poisoned soil, metal tanks and pipes and power lines and glaring lights, where not one trace of nature has survived. It is surreal, some other world, not Earth.
The beauty of nature is sacred only to those who have experienced it. Those living here, who care, campaign vigorously to inform politicians of threats confronting the ecology. It’s no surprise that threatened owls and leopard frogs and marmosets get little interest or support from urban lawmakers whose voters are indignant over potholes, tunnel tolls, and rent-control.
The Bible teaches metaphorically. It may be true that humans got their start in Paradise, but I’ve my doubts that Jahweh threw us out. Our ancestors were human, after all, and just like us. (Perhaps myopic is the word.) They almost surely trashed the place, then turned and walked away to seek a better neighborhood.