“Why did you separate me from the earth?
What did you stand to gain?”
Hopelessness album, 2016
It seems to me that the separation Anohni sings about is at the root of all our problems. I know the feeling from deep grief or depression. The long way out requires sleeping outside on the ground, walking by the river, talking to my dog, touching and observing everything, and making art. For me it’s all connected.
Years ago, I read Last Child in the Woods. The theme resonated: kids’ need to play freely outdoors. Shut inside, glued to electronic media, they become bored, depressed overweight, and inattentive. The book was a big deal when it came out, and educators moved in with ‘no child left inside’ programs.
That’s important, but the problem doesn’t go away when we take kids on a hike or teach them the names of trees. A deep cultural, social alienation remains, a pervasive and learned disconnect that prevents us from experiencing the earth as anything other than a resource. Thomas Berry said our culture makes us like an autistic child “when it comes to the natural world, locked into ourselves and unable to get out or to let the world in, unable to receive or give affection. Unable to relate, “We’d as soon cut down our most beautiful forest in the world. We cut it down, for what? For timber, for board feet, for money.”
Berry was a theologian, and he could speak subjectively about awe and about sickness of the soul. He could say things like “We bear the universe in our beings as the universe bears us in its being.” But the separation is too real to be left in church. Biologist E. O. Wilson writes in terms of instinct and evolution. His Biophilia hypothesis says we’re hard-wired to love life, to appreciate green spaces and delight in animals. Connection is our natural state.
This year’s Perspectives show opening at Nurture Nature Center, includes the work 13 artists. We interviewed Researchers on environmental issues and then, as Makers, responded to the science whole-heartedly. My interviews with Dr. Gail Melson, professor emeritus of Purdue University, and Dr. Lisa Nesbit of Trent University in Canada, expanded my view of ‘nature’ and makes me believe we just might be able to heal this broken relationship with the living world.