Sunday, March 20, 2011

The View from Home

Sometimes, it helps your thinking to just look around where you live. For all my study of ecology and culture, I have to admit a fair amount of ignorance about my local environment outside of the usual range of knowledge most of us have. For example, I didn't know until very recently the species of trees on one of the routes I frequently walk (the dominant ones, currently with leaves, are Blue Spruce, Western Larch, and Ponderosa Pine). Of course, knowing the name of something is mainly good for communicating with other people about it, sharing what you each know and perhaps taking action based on that shared knowledge. I have a number of books (not to mention access to the Internet) which can provide a lot more information, including the books I've used for identification.

I've spent a lot of time studying and thinking about the similarities and differences between what I call the natural world and the artificial world, and how the two interact. My focus has been mainly on how what we do with them is healthy or not, contributing to our survival or ensuring our demise (there is, of course, a lot more to care about; but given the currently high probability of our demise, I feel justified in my preoccupation). In the urban area where I live (metropolitan Denver), the natural world is clearly at a disadvantage: trees, shrubs, and grasses are planted, pruned, and watered wherever people deem they can be, and wildlife is tolerated wherever it isn't perceived as a threat to the way people think their environment should be. My state has done a fair job of protecting wild areas both inside and outside of settled regions, but even there you can see that plants and wildlife have clear limitations imposed on them by the artificial world, a part of which we all carry with us.

The recent disaster in Japan was a horrific reminder of how the the two worlds can seriously harm each other, and how that harm can potentially spread to every neighborhood due to the global reach of the artificial world and the huge influence it has over the natural world. My neighborhood has already seen extreme weather due to the climate changes caused by industrial activity all over the planet. The vacancies at local malls are part of the devastation caused by marauding Wall Street traders and irresponsible bankers who live many hundreds of miles away, and hint at more systemic problems. For a beginner naturalist like me, it's going to be tough learning what's normal for my area before it all changes, but at least I'll understand the changes better in the process.

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