By John Hicks
Ancient man, bless him, made temporary shelters or used natural ones. Modern man makes his own essentially permanent one. That’s clear and simple. But modern man differs from his grandfather in the extent of his “shelters.” Matter of fact, I don’t think modern man lives in “shelters.” The purposes and varieties are so great that I think I will refer to them generically as boxes.
From birth to death, we live our lives in boxes. We’re born in a box - a room - probably in a hospital - a bigger box. Our doting parents transport us in a box - the family car- to our new box- ourhome - where we grow up in boxes for sleeping, for eating, for entertainment, for cleanliness. We are educated in a box, seek treatment for ills in a box, enjoy the arts in a box, marvel at nature from a box and through a box. We dine in a box, exercise in a box, travel the world via boxes.
Consciously or unconsciously we have renounced the natural environment. We prefer an artificial one responsive to our insatiable desire for more comfort and less effort. Unlike the bees and ants, social animals which live in dense communities, we forage for our food in boxes, in artificially lighted, cooled, heated supermarkets, requiring minimal physical or mental exertion.
In the vigor and enthusiasm of our youth, most of us exulted in the embrace of nature. As we age, however, we earn our livings within walls, abandoning the sky and the earth. Most venture only infrequently out of doors, and later crippled by time, we exhaust our days in a care facility, a hospital, a hospice and thence to a mortuary and a casket.
When did humans become estranged from nature? When did we stop seeing ourselves as integral to nature as a blade of grass or a song bird? Did we actually decide that we were beyond or above or separate from nature? Or is our unnatural mode of life the result of millions of tiny thoughtless steps that took us down a road out of the sunlight and starlight to the wonders of artificial illumination? In truth, we know where the wonders are and what they are. However awesome are the pyramids or Manhattan or the Great Wall of China, the Sahara, the Grand Canyon and the Himalayas dwarf them. So why do we live as though nature were a nasty neighbor, hence reducing contact with her as much as possible? I don’t know, but it is so.
We are the true cavemen, the troglodytes, not the so-called cavemen of prehistory. Those small groups of restless paleolithic humans lived predominantly beneath an open sky. We in our boxes, in our caves, live predominantly under a ceiling. In our boxes, we have escaped the storm, the snakes, the mosquitoes, and thousands of other discomfiting natural nuisances, but we have also prevented ourselves from experiencing countless simple pleasures courtesy of nature. Yet we are children of nature. Our own bodies remind us of that affinity when we are ill or as our appearance alters with age. We are of nature, not a distant relative, not a disassociated patent or invention.
Today we feel more at home on a street than a path, more familiar with the sound of engines than the sound of a leaping fish slapping the surface of a lake. We are less human for all this, closer to the inanimate than to the living. Still, we don’t have to torch our boxes to renew a relationship with nature, but we do have to open our doors and step out into the great out of doors. Go, open the door. Discover a new world and a new self. Be patient. Don’t fear. Go, please go.