The diamond-cut life is about joy that’s available to all of us, no matter our income level. Last Saturday I stumbled into a startling scene with my friends Jeremy and Aubrey, ages 16 and 12. I wish you could have been there, too.
We were hiking in Riley Wilderness Park in Orange County, Southern California. It was a dazzling, sun-drenched day, the air clean, the sky bright blue. A man in the middle distance was photographing something, his camera pointed downward, but we couldn’t see what. We traveled off the trail to investigate.
It was the sinuous, gorgeous dance of two rattlesnakes mating, their heads undulating a foot or more off the ground in graceful reptilian courtship. We gawked. We were awestruck. Dumbfounded. It was as if we’d gone to Washington D.C. and found ourselves suddenly brushing shoulders with President Obama. It was nothing we could have possibly expected. Nature is like that.
Watching rattlesnakes mating was even better than the time I saw a bald eagle snatch a fish from the Willamette River, or the family of raccoons I saw climbing a Douglas fir in Mount Tabor park. It was all the better for seeing it with Aubrey and Jeremy. In the years to come we’ll talk about it. “Do you remember the time –?” “Yeah, that was so cool! When are we going hiking again?”
What did it cost us to see this spectacle that most people will never see, not once in their entire lifetimes? A three-dollar parking fee. Even if we hadn’t had three bucks, we could have parked in a neighborhood and walked over. The point is that nature belongs to everyone, of all income levels. That’s a powerful, beautiful thing. Nature can make us all rich.
Nature gives us a spiritual connection devoid of religion, ideology or the other things that set people to arguing and trying to control each other. It’s a haven, a refuge, a sanctuary. Nature can bless us with serenity. I’ve read that being in peaceful natural environments can bring down the blood pressure of people suffering from hypertension.
Of course, it doesn’t pay to over-romanticize that which is wild. Nature is also dangerous. For example, the rattlesnakes could have bitten and killed us, which is the reason we kept a respectful distance. People get injured and killed in wildish places every day of the year. I try to use the mindfulness skills and practical techniques described in Deep Survival, an excellent book by Laurence Gonzales. (Be alert, be humble, and constantly update your mental map, are my favorite takeaways.)
In the post-collapse world of the future that James Kuntzler describes in his intriguing novel World Made By Hand, fossil-fuel-based pleasures like jet skis and air travel may no longer be options. But nature will still persist, even as it will also change, in the same stable, persistent way it was there for our ancestors. When we spend time in it, nature yields us deeply sustaining pleasure. We build our relationship with nature over time, the way we do with a person who is complex and has a lot to them.
The curious thing is that tens of thousands of people live close enough to Riley Wilderness Park to easily go there. But on that sun-drenched, idyllic Saturday afternoon, Riley Wilderness Park was deserted except for me, Jeremy, Aubrey and that wonderful man who pointed us, like a bird-dog, to the slithery dance of rattlesnakes mating. Given the data on how Americans spend their leisure time, it’s a pretty sure bet that many Southern Californians were watching TV or otherwise engaged with computers and electronic entertainment while the rattlesnakes were doing their erotic dance in the lemony sunshine. I think that’s an unfortunate choice.
On a separate but related note, I attended the video chat hosted by 350.org today on the climate movement’s next steps. When author and activist Bill McKibben was asked how to best raise our children, given the dire future realities we’re looking at, he said, “Just give children a chance to fall in love with nature. Then when they’re adults, they’ll do the right things.” (That’s a paraphrase, but faithful to the essence.)
What has been the best experience you have ever had in nature? What is the best way for you to access nature, given where you currently live? Comments here.