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Nature Is Not Benign, It's Responsive


Nature Is Not Benign, It's Responsive

Rick Salutin

When I got home from the cottage Monday, there were signs of struggle in the kitchen, like scratched, torn packaging on rice cakes. Mice? But why didn't the cat disperse them as he always does? Rats? Later I heard scuffling and went back in: a squirrel!


I did a lot of survival camping when I was much younger. Nature is a great teacher, if given a chance. Unfortunately there is not enough real nature left to nourish the souls of seven billion. Whether on the umpteenth floor of a grand building in Mumbai or scavenging for scraps in the detritus of the landfills below, there is no connection to nature--only to the human-based "ecosystem", which much like the human-based economy relies on externalities and inequalities to propel itself toward collapse. Devastated ecosystems so exploited by humans rarely reach the consciousness of most--and that's a pity.


Not being closely enough associated with biophysical reality, AKA, the living world, to be responsive to and in awe of it has become the near universal madness of our species. It is ultimately quite simple: live in the reality of the world and part of its continuing order and functioning or attempt to live in bubbles of self-referenced 'realities,' and sooner or later so damage both 'realities' that neither can be lived in. We have basically two options: learn enough to live in the world through our science, philosophy and consciousness capacities or actually live in such direct contact with the living world that we respond as part of that world (and in vastly reduced numbers).


Their is certainly a reactive element to Nature - change one thing and many other things change with it - but as an overall label, reactive suggests that Nature is passive, existing in a state of balance and equilibrium and to disrupt that balance is to do so at your peril.

These notions of Nature have long been discarded by science. A better label is dynamic. The history of this planet is change, always change. That was the constant before our species arrived and it will be the constant after we are gone.

This is an important distinction to make in regards to global warming. Too many are focused on that reactive label. Increase emissions and the temperature rises. That is now obvious, of course. What is not so obvious is that simply reversing those emission levels won't return the environment to what it was at some point in the past. That assumes that Nature is passive. It is not. Nature is dynamic, so by increasing emissions and raising the temperature of the atmosphere, our species sets in motion other processes, some of which we have yet to understand, that can't be reversed by simply reducing emissions to some pre-determined level of the past.

This is why our species needs to move climate change to an emergency status, not a political talking point, not something to discuss in down the road terms, but something that needs immediate and drastic action NOW. We are truly dealing with something we don't fully understand.


I like Mr. Salutin's lyrical writing style, but his prose leaves out something vital; and it might be termed the spiritual equivalent of the law of thermodynamics in that for every human action that attacks nature, karmic blow-back results.

The article leaves out the fact that Fort MacMurray is also a community that built up around Oil pipeline activity. That the livelihoods of many of its residents comes directly from destroying the earth.

Solar power, wind power, geothermal power, and the technology LONG developed from downed alien spacecraft ALL show the ways to wean society from its fossil fuels.

However, in spite of the best efforts of MSM pundits to hide the truth, and message thread poseurs who push the idea that it's the demand side of the equation (drivers) rather than the suppliers (Energy Cartels) that determine policy...

It's largely those invested in the oil-gas-coal infrastructure who fight assiduously to prevent other energy approaches from taking hold.

Indigenous people not only don't live walled off from nature, there is a fundamental distinction to their spirituality and it's that they worship nature as the great MOTHER. It's the missing or should I say omitted Feminine Principle that informs so much of Western patriarchal culture, capitalism, and conditioning that sets up a very different approach to nature.

It's one based on use, abuse, domination, control, ownership, and often destruction.

Is that the way to treat One's Mother?


About 18 months ago CD published an article that explained that ALL citizens could arguably live on the continent of Australia.

What makes for destruction are wasteful habits, the extreme consumption styles of the very rich, and industrial infrastructure that is based on the colonizer mindset: the idea of exploitation... rather than balance, recycling, and symbiosis.


"Their is certainly..."

I think your posts are often intelligent. Do you seriously NOT know the difference between the language usage of "their" versus "there"?

The term their is used to connote possession. "It's their house."

The term "there" speaks to a location.

He left his tennis shoes there.

There is a difference...

There is a distinction.

Not "their is..."


For all the instruction this forum's posters require, someone should be paying me a former English Teacher salary!

On the content of your comment, two things spring immediately to mind.

First of all, you vastly oversimplify what nature "is" in an attempt to shown fawning praise for science.

Science is a lot like money.

Its value derives from what it's used for.

With science largely in the hands of corporations like Monsanto and Big Pharma., these financially powerful entities play a major role in what is taught in universities. The relationship works like that of the lobbyist to the politician.

The other entity that science serves is the military industrial complex.

How much science is behind drones that kill with anonymity leaving the human element out of the always insidious War Equation?

Science today is mostly under the influence of Mars Rules and so it's used to clear more forests faster, and build dams, and poison rivers, and artificially disrupt DNA, etc.

I would not be so reverent towards science, my friend. Not with its current track record.

Oh, and to the extent psychology is viewed as a "social science," let us not forget that psychologists designed the protocols of TORTURE.

Another "fine use" of science!


From where I live, in NJ's bear country, rather than "responsive" I would say that nature is opportunistic. I'm battling invader-species ground covers (vinca, Japanese pachysandra) planted by the former owner of my property, and the best tool I've found is an enthusiastic native species of foamflower that I find spreading into the vinca without assistance from me. I started calling a big, sloping area of lawn "the meadow" and mowing it only with a weed whacker, leaving tree seedlings standing. Now it's "the poplar grove." But indeed the bears. In most cases where bears have invaded kitchens, people have left screen doors open while they were baking brownies, or with bowls of fruit just inside. The bears are only foraging. The other night I listened for more than 30 minutes while a bear tried to get into my neighbor's trash can, still kept in the same spot where they've been keeping it for 10 years, but now in bear-proof cans. Their standard route with bags of garbage was up into my yard, and indeed the next morning the trash can was wedged into the bottom of my front walk. Apparently this bear wasn't strong enough to carry the locked can up the walk and through my yard (I also got a birdfeeder that way).

If we are to live with nature, even on the very local scale, we must figure out how to provide opportunities for nature to repair our past mistakes, and as Rick Salutin found, close the windows of opportunity for nature's creatures to become dependent on unnatural resources. I wish my neighbors would just move their garbage to the other end of the parking area, but at least they got the screw-top cans and I still get to listen to the bears working.


I think I covered the narrative using "human-based ecology", but could perhaps have clarified that by using the term "dominionist-based economy".

As for Australia housing all humans, maybe a land mass the size of Australia, but the paucity of water on that continent would not be able to sustain all of humanity, even living in true concert with the land.


With global warming, rising sea levels and beach erosion are becoming problems.

Our state spends quite a lot paying for tractor raking seaweed off the beaches. People like to keep beaches looking like a big sandbox for tourists to play in. The tractors crush turtle nests and destroy the shoreline ecosystem.

But some of the worst damage is raking the seaweed that forms a berm, provides for plant growth and halts beach erosion.

Nature can work for us is we work with it.


I have always found meadows and poplar groves more appealing then manicured lawns.


Nice article - simple - understandable.

As for the main point - that we are out of touch with nature - and that's dangerous - agreed !

But maybe we're out of touch with more than nature - out there - we're out of touch with nature - in here - i.e., who we are.

I just read "Tribe" by Sebastian Junger, which explores this theme, who are we - really?

Highly recommend this book - same style as this article, simple, understandable.

Studying the complexity of the modern world can be a full time occupation, but at what cost?

Because there is always a cost.



Even more fascinating than the squirrels is the way a huge population of raccoons has thoroughly adapted to urban life in Mr. Salutin's Toronto. One was even found recently foraging on a patio 20 stories in the air on one of those ugly upscale condo-skyscrapers that are popping up everywhere in Toronto. It had climbed right up the side of the building!

Porter Airlines, a small airline serving the Downtown airport even adopted the raccoon as its logo.


Cool! Just heard yesterday on NYC public radio that there's a family of coyotes (3 adults) raising pups near LaGuardia Airport. There's a "wild dog" organization urging people to let them alone and saying that the pups will go off on their own soon. I love the way 2nd-layer predators have moved east and south as wolves have recovered alpha status. I hear coyotes have populated underpasses and highway medians.


Agreed on both points: appreciation for the article and our lack of understanding (or even real curiosity) on the question of 'who we are'. Partly by accident and partly out of necessity, I - now in my early 70's - seem to have made 'who we are' along side interest in natural forces my life study. On the latter (natural forces) I 'simply' became increasingly aware through childhood experiences growing up on a mixed central prairie farm (livestock and crops), that was also legally 'posted' by choice of my parents against hunting. So while noting almost unconsciously the 'forces' that were part of farm machinery operation, I similarly began to notice 'social forces', later adding dawning realization of 'economic forces' as actors on 'social' forces. Much later I again farmed (in northern Canadian western aspen parkland country) and learned a whole lot more - on both areas of interest! By then "Small is Beautiful" and "Limits to Growth" were widely read by those around me, and we belonged to the Canadian National Farmers Union which brought global land ownership issues as well as key human rights issues to the fore --- more learning!

Eventually my own 'deeper self-awareness issues' needed long-delayed attention. This was about the same time I shifted from farming to public school teaching where I ended up for about a decade teaching grade 3/4 kids. The 'human potential movement' was also underway then, as were assorted 'empowerment' movements such as the women's movement. I was a participant in all this, but - as was my way - not ever to the point of adopting an us/them or 'me first' stance.

As part of my 'work' while entering and developing teaching I pursued study of individual and group psychology and the dynamics that play out there. All my assorted 'fields of awareness' seemed to come together in working with the young kids. My district initiated a range of inservice programs oriented toward community building that were compatible with all the above and also extended possibilities. The kids, just by being who they were, (a mixed lot in every way, economically, culturally, and 'academically'). showed me several things about 'who we are' (as a species') that I've taken to heart as reasonable and useful 'bottom line' understandings. One is that each child born is hard-wired with 'urge' to thrive both as an individual developing unique interests and talents and as an individual supported by and returning support to community. We are 'psycho-social', full stop. Maslow's hierarchy is very useful to identify what's needed as 'foundation' to best support what can follow. But what is true of the individual as per Maslow is also true of the community in which the individual thrives. The community itself must have access to resources, etc. Individuals who are not supported in many of the ways needed may turn out to be 'well behaved worker bees' and cordial or not. But they've been short-changed. When enough are short-changed, so there is a 'group' who are marginalized, they may eventually be unwilling to 'play nice', or at least won't cooperate easily with 'the leaders'. (IMO - this hardwired need to 'experience welcome and value in community' is likely the deepest root from which the concept of 'democracy' arises.) Our hardwiring today is not much different than it has ever been, at least since hunting-gathering days.

Considering 'those guys', the h-gs: They were vulnerable - a condition which, by the way, is still with us, although our deep awareness of it is buried under eons of layers of assorted structures and distractions. But the awareness is there, it is there in instinctive, inarticulate form, from the second we're born. Many, even most, but not all h-g peoples got carried away worshiping an external 'god' entity and developing priest hierarchies with lots of rules and 'class' societies, The h-g that did not develop elaborate societies and technologies - in my experience - are a source of models for a different kind of justice and for cooperation that is for the most part non or much less hierarchical. As part of my teaching experience, I learned to use consensus work with my class (on almost all class community decisions, even study plans), learned and taught a process for peer-mediated conflict resolution that was not that different from community wide 'Justice Circle' protocols, (the conflict resolution being also a 'listen/reflect/speak' process). Our conflict resolution instruction (via BC Justice Institute) taught that all individuals deeply seek at least this in community: they want to feel validated for who they are, and they want their contributions to be given a place at the table. (The most inspirational sources of h-g developed cooperative community concepts I came into contact with were through Canadian First Nations practices that continue to practice and teach approaches to justice and validation of individuals.)

I've wandered a long way from our species relationship with nature - but not really, I think. I've not mentioned our species capacities with language and tool-making. In addition to our innate capacities for many 'negative' urges (anger, blame, etc), and our innate capacities for amazing 'positive' urges (empathy, cooperation), we're capable of 'thinking about' whether or not we were or are or will be physically comfortable; we're capable of 'thinking' about what emotions are most pleasant and trying to manipulate our environments to maximize comfort and pleasure. Look. Out. Nature.

Here. We. Come. ... and so we have. Especially this is true the more any aspects of our lives are entangled with complex technologies we've designed or supported and the equally complex social/political structures we've developed. The key and to me astonishing reality of all this human journey is how unavoidably ignorant we've been about 'who we really are' in just plain psychological terms. Social sciences are stunningly new as organized fields of study in the human process of gathering data - be it by 'hard' measurement or by carefully observed over time patterns. Even ancient tales indicate human awareness of 'motivation' behind behavior, and offer various explanations, "apple doesn't' fall far from the tree". But not until Freud et al did 'individual psychology' shaped by early experience begin to be worth looking at, (to my mind, his contemporary Alfred Adler was actually on a more sound path of study.) Marx reveals a lot of thoughtful social science awareness of industrial capitalism's 'machine' nature and how humans would inevitably respond - both owners and workers. (I'm far from a M. scholar, but draw from David Harvey's lectures and other contributors). All this leads to realization that "Hey - we're actually hard wired in a biological sense to be ---not like this animal or that, not like ape or lion or eagle -- but to be who we are, human, a distinct species!"

IMHO! To 'mature beyond' where we've brought ourselves in this 21stC, we have to take 'who we are' into account. As my young students demonstrated in their curiosity of themselves and the human world around them, and in their relative ease at picking up skills that supported empathy, cooperation, community and one another, the rudiments of being aware of 'who we are' is not really so difficult. What's difficult is for those of us who're no longer so young to identify and disentangle ourselves from trans-generational habits we've learned and honed that 'protect' us - both from human community imagined and real harms and from the wildness of nature.

I'm not sure we'll enjoy the transition. I personally can't imagine how we'll curb our appetites for tech-based comforts sufficiently to honor biodiversity and watershed health at the scale of 'healing time' our dear old earth may need. A portion of us - those least concerned with inclusive human wellness experience - are unlikely to yield accumulated power and influence for sake of equitable access to life-sustaining resources. The many who've perhaps experienced much of Maslow's hierarchy who're at or near the pinnacle tend - in my observation - to be unaware that they're not already generous. (After all, Maslow emphasized The Individual as the center of 'human achievement' - either assuming quality community or accepting "not available to all". A great many of us are 'genuinely sorry' for the suffering, but we do need our picnics and holidays so hope to tend to suffering in due time. (And those who feel this way do deeply feel this way! They're puzzled, surprised, anyone wouldn't recognize their well meaning-ness.)

Also to be examined: religious teachings I've experienced/explored, both western and eastern, do tend to accept and rationalize "some will always suffer, even a lot and throughout their lives". This is very much an 'us/them' paradigm. This same paradigm is rampant through religious and general culture regarding nature, where it becomes us - that.

I've wandered around with this theme so long in this sitting I'm not sure what I've achieved. No doubt some ideas started and dropped, others elaborated on far too long. I 'see' all this 'as of a piece' and so 'who we think we are as human' is directly related to our relationship with nature. Maybe it's fitting to offer one of my favorite observations, attributed I think to Emma Watson, an Aboriginal social scholar and activist in Australia, speaking to an unidentified person or group who've arrived to 'help': "If you've come here to help, you're wasting my and your time; if you've come because you recognize your and my wellbeing is inextricably linked, then let us work together." (certainly not a direct quote but close I think).


We had a rabid coyote attack a family in my area a couple weeks ago. At about the same time, a co-worker who lives in the area where this happened had her cat vanish.

And at an old house in Smoke-Hole, West Virginia that our old caving club uses as a "field house" and general getaway, coyotes decimated the neighboring farmers sheep herd - so they gave up and sold the sheep. Now, without grazing, the old, too-steep-to-brush-hog pastures around the house are going to become cedar, locust, and briar thickets and become absorbed by the surrounding forest land.

The Mountain Lion is expected to return to the eastern US too. There are confirmed sightings in western Tennessee. So, in time, there will be real "Nittanny Lions" again on Nittany Mountain near Penn State U.

That only leaves the eastern elk - but alas - it was a distinct species from the western elk and is now extinct. Western Elk have been introduced, but they don't do too well.


You're right, natural opportunism doesn't always fit our plans. But that doesn't mean the animals are in the wrong. Too-steeep-to-brush-hog sounds like perfect land to be reabsorbed by the forest.

Rabies is certainly an issue, but destroying predators is not the solution.