Tuesday, April 27, 2010
The Suburban Naturalist
Artist pal, Andrea gave me a book for my birthday called Crow Planet by Lyanda Lynn Haupt. I know, I know, more bird/crow talk. But this book is more than just about crows. It's also a contemplation of how we view nature in man made places. Haupt writes, "Too often, nature is romanticized as the place out there, the place with all the sparkly trees in the Sierra Club calendar, the place we visit with a knapsack and a Clif Bar, where we stand in awe of the beauty and refresh our spirits..... In my urban ecosystem, I drive around a corner and a crow leaps into flight from the grassy parking strip. We startle each other. If nature is Out There, she asks, what am I?".
This book resonates with me because much of what she writes reflects how I feel. In the early days of this blog when only one person was reading, (Andrea, a stranger then, one of my real life best friends now), I wrote about parking my minivan and reluctantly exploring my surroundings that were walking distance from my house. In the bowels of same and more same suburbia, I soon noticed crows were the most interesting things to watch on these quiet streets. The more I observed them, the more I became aware of how intelligent they were and became interested in learning more about them. Wanting to paint crows (and other birds), is a natural progression (bugs may actually be next).
Being open to our surroundings, even if they appear mundane or we'd rather be somewhere else (like New York, Paris or walking in the Alaskan wilderness) tends to give us a greater appreciation of our place. I don't grumble about living here as I once did. Adopting the curiosity of a naturalist has made the tiny details of my world interesting.
Having said that, I don't hold a romantic view of nature either. I used to, back in my 20's, with a desire to drop out of society, live off the land, connect with nature and be free man. I was always disappointed to discover the majority of people I met like that smoked pot all day, wore goaty smelling Ecuadorian sweaters (no offense to the people of Ecuador and their knitwear) and were generally kind of....lazy? militant conformist for the clique of nonconformity? The back to nature attitude is nice in theory and all but of course, truly back to nature also means incredible hardship and labour, possible starvation, illness and no escape back to mom and dad's comfortable house when things get hard. Even Thoreau didn't REALLY rough it, modern historian Richard Zacks wrote,
"Thoreau's 'Walden, or Life in the Woods' deserves its status as a great American book but let it be known that Nature Boy went home on weekends to raid the family cookie jar. While living the simple life in the woods, Thoreau walked into nearby Concord, Mass., almost every day. And his mom, who lived less than two miles away, delivered goodie baskets filled with meals, pies and doughnuts every Saturday. The more one reads in Thoreau's unpolished journal of his stay in the woods, the more his sojourn resembles suburban boys going to their tree-house in the backyard and pretending they're camping in the heart of the jungle."