The Natural World

The grey sky, pale and cloudless, is visible behind swaying trees. Waves of sound—mimicking the cacophony of the ocean shore—keep time with the trees’ movement. In one instant, the entire forest seems to bend back and forth in response to strong gusts of wind. In the next, absolute stillness takes hold, as if the scene had been captured by a still camera. Watching and hearing those transitions between frenetic motion and cool tranquility, I get the sense that weather is a sentient being.

Weather. The word is an abbreviation for humans’ perception of a changing physical environment. The dictionary definition is the state of the atmosphere with respect to wind, temperature, cloudiness, moisture, pressure, etc. That seems so sterile and empty. Hurricanes and tornadoes and snow storms are not so antiseptic. Driving rain and floods are not so dull and impersonal. Weather is the natural world around us, in all its frantic moods and sleepy laziness.

Now, the wind is howling. The trees are lurching back and forth, as if they are trying to extract their roots that shackle them to the ground. The wind howls, a low, guttural noise laden with menace. But the wind has no intent. It simply exists. Humans sometimes attribute all manner of motives to the natural world, as if the world around us were as emotionally fragile as we so often are. Nature is not angry. The wind and the waves and the driving rain of powerful storms are not fierce. Ferocity implies savagery. Yet the natural world does not possess emotions nor intentions. Wind does not rage. But we insist on assigning human qualities to the natural world. That is absurd. Or is it? When we are not drowning in the flood of emotions, we dismiss the idea that weather—and the whole of the natural world—is conscious. We laugh at the idea that all living creatures, except us, can feel the same emotions that drive us. Oh, we acknowledge that animals can feel fear. But we refuse to accept that plants can communicate with one another. Or that tomato plants, for example, can feel agony when their fruit is ripped from their stems. What nonsense! Right? Yes, if one accepts that humans truly understand the nature of Nature. But No, if one accepts that humans cannot—at least not yet—fathom the possibility that pain and pleasure and a thousand other sensations we feel may be echoed in the natural world, but in ways we cannot appreciate because we lack the physical and chemical and biological structures that enable the natural world to experience itself.

It is late. I awoke very late today. I went to bed early last night. Something must be awry. Or I am evolving or devolving or otherwise changing. I should inquire of African violets; might they know more than I about what causes aberrations in patterns of sleep? Possibly. But the very idea of asking African violets to answer questions is preposterous. A sure sign of madness or, even worse, acceptance of one’s innate ignorance.

All right. I will stop for now. I will try to launch into a more reasonable form of consciousness than this mystical morass that has, thus far today, enveloped me.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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