A Hint of Nature

21 03 2007

By Jill Ettinger

I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to dead cats. I have a living one; she’s sitting next to me now, purring. We’ve been housemates for fourteen years, and I’ve never had a reaction to her. But yesterday, I was sitting next to a recently dead cat and well, I reacted like I stuck my head in a bag of pollen. How this is possible escapes me on most levels, except for one very easy answer: nature is strange. We’ve all heard that nature has Her “laws,” except we also know that’s not necessarily true. Remember just over a year ago when dozens of new species turned up in Indonesia?

Where did they come from? Did they just appear out of nowhere? How did they go unnoticed for so long? How does nature do that? Or what about egg-laying mammals like echidnas and platypus? Why are hummingbirds the only birds that can fly backwards? There are limitless accounts of circumstances that defy the “norm” of nature, from plants to ants. And even as far as the norm is concerned, nature in and of itself is truly a mystery. We accept it because we have no choice. She does what she wants, when She wants. We (as in, all human beings) are part of the natural “process” – fully organic and biodegradable (though some of us less so than others). Yet many of remain unaware of this.

Of all the myriad of things that creates a connection between people, the one that most intensifies my relationship with others is a mutual fascination with the world around us, in the sense that all is nature. I find myself constantly aware of my environment, as it changes from airport to dance floor to hot springs to forest. These are all different expressions of it. But I realize that’s not the case for everyone. We’ve constructed a synthetic world, from the foods we eat to the houses we inhabit. And although these “artificial” inventions are, like George Carlin stated, still “natural” (being that they all originate from earthly substances), there’s no doubt we’ve spent mind-numbing hours deviating them. Yet people don’t want to think about that which they are born from and return to. They buy expensive cars and get plastic surgery and build giant buildings to sit inside, “away” from nature. They even eat things like Doritos and Pepsi. They feed their children Pop Tarts. This is an attempt, illegitimate at best, to defy nature’s most powerful and terrifying force. By mangling it in so many ways, a false sense of control allows us a slight tinge of immortality. People might actually believe that they can cheat death by avoiding nature. Vacations are manicured visits to Disney or Six Flags; meals consist of doughy, sugar coated, fried substances and tortured carcasses. (Apparently avoiding nature is not enough, we have to inflict incredible pain and suffering onto it as well.) Our most frequent discussions revolve around images broadcast through an electronic tube – as if they were as real as, well, nature.

All this thinking hit a peak for me last week, while I was in Anaheim with Sunfood Nutrition. It was my ninth visit to the Natural Products Expo. Another record breaking attendance year of over 47,000 flocked in to see the latest and greatest coming out of the “natural products” industry. Ah yes, those natural foods and such. They’re good for us right?

Truth is, most people don’t know the difference between fruits and vegetables. (Do you? Reply to this blog – zucchini, romaine lettuce, celery, bell pepper – which are vegetable?  No wiki-cheating!) I understand evolution is happening constantly. It is, well, what nature does, and our addiction to destruction and manipulation are part of that current process.  But when I saw a full-page ad in a USA Today for Crest toothpaste, I freaked out. And when I say freak out, I mean, sitting in a strange Southern California hotel staring out a window at a sea of cars and buildings, exhausted and completely stupefied by the gazillion trillion dollars Proctor & Gamble must have shelled out for this absolutely moronic line to launch their new toothpaste: “Crest Nature’s Expressions. Now, with a hint of nature.” No longer do we bow to the forces that carved the grand canyon and the Himalayas and bring forth tsunamis, sunflowers, strawberries and butterflies. No. Ladies and Gentlemen of Wal-Martian Society, Nature is now a novelty. It’s kitsch because although some of us actually take organic and natural substances seriously, as in for real, some marketing retard (no offense to real retards) thought it would help sell more crap at Wal-Mart if people think they’re getting a little bit closer to nature. Why? Because, we are so far removed from it, that a little bit of nature is akin to what a little bit of processed crap was 100 years ago.  We’ve done a complete 180. Remember Little House on the Prairie? People back then ate normal foods – fruits and vegetables, and minimally harassed animals. For a rare treat they could get a vine of licorice. But it was not routine. Nature was a player and a respected part of life. This too is the case in all tribal cultures throughout history. But in one little century, we’ve reduced nature to a selling attribute. It’s cute. It’s got a fresh, clean scent. Like the ones they add to cat litter. You know now that I think about it a little more, maybe I’m not allergic to dead cats after all. Maybe I’m just getting sick.

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18 04 2007
Look Who's Talking Green « Lower East Side Notebook

[…] nature?” That’s the question. Nature per se, I suspect, is yesterday’s news. As another blog I ran across aptly suggests, nature is kitsch now. I wonder personally if nature ever really […]

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