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2022 Apr 20

How do we enjoy nature?

Glassy grey offices rise out of the manhattan mist in the morning, floating masts with silver sails. Some say they are derelict ships, approaching the harbor bearing freight and souls long lost. The men and women crewing these hate their concrete prisons and hate themselves for being their own jailors. They look for something to place in opposition to this, something to grind away the edifice of their misery. The crews take a silent vote, a colloquial quorum, some take a break beneath the elms during their allotted slot at noon, and they settle on the word "nature."

Nature is usually defined as everything not made or built by humans. People say they go to the park to be surrounded by nature. Of course what is usually meant is that they like to sit in the grass, laze under the shade of the trees, and breathe the slightly chlorophilated air from the leaves, echoing their ears with the songs of chirping birds, filling their eyes with seas of green. A city park, however, is entirely unnatural.

The park is a combed and curated environment, designed, built, and maintained by humans for humans. It is a configuration of elements one might find in nature but safely neutered. Many natural things, like mountain lions, would not be allowed in a city park. Though, in New York, one wonders sometimes whether or not the city is competent enough to prevent one from taking up residence there and feasting on the shiba inu dogs of unwitting joggers. Park elements like trees, bushes, and harmless animals are no doubt pleasant and that's why people go. The truth is that real nature, under our definition, must bring with it a genuine absence of the design, structure, and safety that most parks have. Does this mean that the park is a superficial experience? That depends.

If you go to the park with the idea that it stands in opposition to the urbanism that surrounds it, that you're separating yourself from humanity's work, then you have an incoherent view. The nature you experience is a hollow concept, an empty reflection of the real thing. Your experience is probably superficial. But there's a better way to look at this situation, there's always a better way.

If you change your definition of nature to encompass everything, including human activity, then there would be no definitional difference between sitting in your metal jail and sitting under the trees, both are nature. An understanding that most park trees are pleasant and that most office buildings are not does not require the adoption of an incoherent definition of nature or the practice of vapid aesthetics. Don't go to the park to enjoy nature. Don't go to the park to separate yourself from your humanity. Go to the park to enjoy the elms.

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