The Peace of Wild Things
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
— Wendell Berry
I am trying to find a way to put into words what I’ve been thinking about the last few days. My thoughts have been a whirlwind of randomness so a logical compilation may be impossible.
It seems to me that since there are so many people on the planet we have lost our sense of responsibility to each other and the earth. Many people are making a difference, taking a stand and making changes but the vast majority seems to exist in the rhyme and rhythm that they do not need to be better shepherds of the earth; that we do not need to change our personal behavior because it won’t make a difference and somebody else will do it. I am guilty of feeling insignificant, and whenever I do I feel like my life does not have a purpose. One thing I know for sure is that our lives need purpose. We need purpose to feel healthy, to be happy, to feel confident and maintain our self worth.
In one way, caring about the environment and working towards change is overwhelming and depressing, but it’s also a promising life pursuit because it needs people, it is challenging, open to creativity, demands heart and can be addressed in so many different ways. Heart, compassion and caring are the values that will make the greatest impact but they must be used in the right context and be in touch with reality. Touching on the nature of our sentimentality Jacques Cousteau brings into focus the actions that are labeled evil in our society.
“What we have to do is separate the environmental movement from an exaggerated sentimentalism.”Oh, poor little animal.” I’ll give you an example. “Baby seals, they are slaughtered, it is awful.” Yes, it is awful but we have suppressed their predators so the scientists in Canada have to decide how many baby seals to kill to keep the population stable. It is not cruelty, it is a logical decision of scientists.”
My point with this quote is not to diminish sentimentality, but to bring awareness to the fact that our actions are part of a linked system. The seals are slaughtered because humanity lacked compassion in the first place by killing their predators. There is so much history behind ‘the way things are’ that is opaque at face value. We label the killing of seals evil, but not driving cars, or using plastic which ends up in the bodies of millions of animals and creates dead zones in the oceans. When we think in terms of ‘poor little animal’ I always think about how very western this mindset is. Yes it is terrible and sad and violent, I am not denying that, but we are reacting to a symptom of our disregard instead of treating the disease at the root of the problem.
Imagine if we could see the death and destruction of every single one of our actions that degrades the environment. My imaginations procures images of animals dropping dead around me, poisonous chemicals leaching out of vents, the whole world enveloped in misery, hunger and sadness. Yep-my imagination has always got me in trouble, it’s one of the reasons I cannot watch horror films, but if our actions were tangibly represented around us, we might make some bigger changes.
We need a healthy dose of reality and tangibility, something to provoke the desire to take care of what is around us, and each other. We use different language to describe the things we love and take care of and change comes from understanding systems and applying this same language to the things that take care of us without our realizing it. The plants and animals in the environment, which we are part of by the way, provide beauty, air, shade, value, life, food, stabilization, amazement among many other values. Imagine if we had a friend who provided all of these things and at the end of the day we beat the shit out of them and expected them to keep providing the next.