And… it’s been over three months since I’ve left New York City. Barring a few subway rides to Queens or the Bronx, I haven’t really even left my narrow Brooklyn to Manhattan corridor.
There’s variety, but no matter what the event, it all takes place in the city. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. All this hustle and bustle, the concrete encasement of the earth, the noise, the unlimited possibilities – does it change me?
I have been reading about psychologists challenging the very nature of all of our psychological research. Nearly all of the studies about human behaviour, they say, have used western subjects. But, as they point out, we’re different from other humans – each a function of the environment and culture in which we were raised. Rationality, perception, morality – these, they conclude, are not universal. There is no (or at least no overly dominant) human nature; instead we are functions of our surroundings – like tofu, we soak up the flavour we’re surrounded by.
Food for thought.
In any case, the environment we’re living in – ‘we’ referring to western urbanites, or eighty percent of North Americans – surely has an effect. In the city, it is a series of oft concrete right angles; of boxes, compartments, asphalt, and lines.
I, for example, spend all day looking at a rectangular computer screen, taking a few odd breaks to read my rectangular magazine or look at my rectangular phone – all this in the corner of my rectangular cubicle in my rectangular office, that I got to by riding in a rectangular box up a rectangular shaft, after entering through a rectangular door on the corner of a perfectly straight street in the middle of a city laid out on a grid of rectangles.
All this is rather divergent from the elegant chaos that is mother nature. Rocks and trees and mosses don’t contain a whole lot of right angles. At other times in history – or right now, in other places, humans aren’t so enclosed in compartments. It’s interesting to think about – the effect of willfully living in boxes and cages, at least for the majority of our days.
All this led me to ask the question – is my living in NYC leading to rapid onset Nature Deficit Disorder?
So I took two trains and a bus today to Abram Hewitt State Forest in New Jersey to hike alongside the Appalachian Trail on Bearfort Ridge. No right angles involved. Just rhododendrons, white pines, and rain drops.
“I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil — to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society.”
Henry David Thoreau (from Walking, publishing posthumously in 1862 in The Atlantic Monthly)