I recently went on a picnic to a local park with a couple of friends over spring break. We had a nice time, enjoyed ourselves in the growing spring breeze, and complained about the weed smokers in the picnic field behind us (they were not being discreet at all). Although we weren't sitting on the floor, we could feel the nature around us, in the wondrous sun, or in the bright green leaves. It was nice to overwhelm ourselves with greenery, especially with finals lurking behind them.
When I came home, I was perplexed at how readily we made nature the background to our antics. True, it was a picnic, and we were situated in a grove of trees, but we started playing board games and listening to electronic music as soon as we sat down. As a poet, I often find nature in the foreground of my thoughts, but somehow, the scenery around me had faded as quickly as it had appeared.
Of course, this happens to every one of us all the time. In our homes, closed off from nature, staring at the ungodly blue light of our screens, we forget the blades of grass and slabs of bark that surround us. Even in the densest of urban jungles, weeds poke out from under the pavement. Yet still, we forget them; each root goes unnoticed, each flower goes unwatered, and each sprout gets trampled by the oncoming traffic. We, as a species, have forgotten the things that gave us life, and we don't seem to be becoming more aware.
In some ways, nature has become secondary to us. We suppress her, push natural landscapes into themselves and climb on top of the corpses. We hack at her tree limbs, scramble over her oceans, and cut deep into her crust. We take what we need and leave the rest to fend for itself. But it doesn't seem to be faring as well as before.
If we viewed her as a sentient being, we would not act this way. In fact, in the 1970s, two scientists drafted a proposal: what if the Earth was a living creature, capable of homeostasis and able to respond to stimuli? But, these scientists, a chemist named James Lovelock and a microbiologist named Lynn Margulis, faced derision from the scientific community. The theory was labeled as pseudoscience, criticized for being too vague, and was not accepted into general scientific knowledge. Eventually, the theory faded into underground scientific circles, forgotten by the greater human population.
However, in recent years, science has given this hypothesis some second thoughts. As technology improves, studies have shown that living creatures and inorganic material have been reliant on one another. Many minerals on earth's surface could not exist without organic material. The ozone layer, a part of the atmosphere made of O3 particles, was created by living organisms during the Great Oxygenation Event. These things seem to suggest that some aspects of the hypothesis could be plausible.
These ideas prove that the Earth is more sentient than we imagine it to be. Although she is not composed of the essential elements of life, she reacts much like any living being. She cannot strike up a conversation, but she can give humans clues about what's hurting her. It's then our responsibility to interpret the signs and react. But we can only do this if we pay attention. Instead of reducing nature to a background, we should treat her with the importance she deserves.
All this seems to suggest that humans are powerful and able creatures, capable of morphing the planet we live on to our needs. But, if you trace the history of the Earth far back enough, you'll recall a time where humans were little more than thoughts in the vast universe. In our egocentric, modern society, we need this reminder of fragility even more. But our ephemeral nature isn't something to be afraid of. This macrocosm of thought has led me to believe that the afternoon I spent in the company of friends is precious. The fleeting nature of the event, after reflecting on the history of our planet, seems more valuable than all the gold in the Earth's mantle. But to continue enjoying these kinds of moments, and to allow our grandchildren to experience them too, we must remember that the Earth is not just the land we live on. She is our mother, in the most literal sense of the word, and we should treat her as such.