I realized a long time ago that I really don’t like nature that much. I mean, it’s fine (what would we do without nature?). But I don’t get that frenzied, messianic look in my eye when people bring up nature or when they say they’ve been doing something I consider abhorrent, like wandering around in the woods for two weeks. My God, I think. Did you do that voluntarily?
I feel similar guilt pangs about not liking dogs that much and about drawing a complete blank when people refer to themselves as “spiritual.” I’ve never quite understood, exactly, what spiritual means, even though it’s been explained to me, quite earnestly, half a dozen times. And dogs — well, I do get them, but I can take them or leave them, which is not what you would call a popular emotion in certain crowds.
Anyway, more than one person suggested that, on this sabbatical, if my husband and I really wanted to get a lot of work done, we should go to the country for a year. The country for a year! Are they kidding? The country for a weekend is just great — peaceful, bucolic, restful, whatever. After that, it seriously begins to get on my nerves and I need to be airlifted to an urban center as quickly as possible so I can be revived by the sounds of tires squealing and people yelling at one another. Oh, yes, civilization!
What I’ve realized over the past few weeks is that a place like Central Park is just about as much nature as I need or want. You know, a few trees and bushes, some grass and rocks. But, in the distance, you can always catch a comforting glimpse of some buildings and, equally important, you’re never out of cellphone range.
Along with those advantages, you also get to watch other people, a pastime I’ll take any day over watching a bunch of boring, uncommunicative, possibly dangerous animals in the wild. And what an array of people! Last week, we saw a solo tuba player sitting on a bench, practicing for the marching band. A young couple asked my husband to take their photo, so we watched them intertwine their arms around each other as they posed. They were impossibly beautiful together, like an elegant sculpture, and I wondered what would happen to them in another five years. Then, walking past a park bench, we heard two guys talking about relationships. “You have to compromise in a relationship,” one told the other. “Dude, I really hate that.”
We walked, we watched, we listened, we had a fine time. Then, after about an hour, when we were hungry, there were zillions of restaurants around, just begging to be tried. I know this isn’t everybody’s idea of communing with nature, but for me, it does the trick.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read more about my idea of hell