Nature is a Temple

July 2, 2011 at 1:41 am (Uncategorized)

So I’d decided that for my next blog post I wanted to consider some Important Topic like free will and determinism, or the power of symbolic language to shape reality–something really heavy and existential. But in doing so I came to the conclusion that a., metaphysics is not my strong suit and b., thinking about such topics, and worse still trying to write about them, is highly unpleasant and stressful for me. I’m serious, it reduces me to a state of nervous anxiety. My stomach begins to churn, my hands go limp and icy, I develop an eerie farsighted stare and respond to conversational attempts with weak monosyllables. I am one of those people for whom philosophy is actually pathogenic.

Therefore,  needing to calm my nerves after a traumatizing afternoon of considering Laplace’s demon and the hard problem of consciousness, I went for a walk at the Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary. There is something instantly soothing and reparative about the New England woods, which take on a different mood with every season but always manage to retain a certain mystique. There’s a peculiar watchful quality about them, but it’s not a malevolent presence. It’s just that the spirit of nature feels very close. It always brings to mind a favorite quote by the Romantic poet Charles Baudelaire: “Nature is a temple in which living columns sometimes emit confused words. Man approaches it through forests of symbols, which observe him with familiar glances.”

Evolutionary biologists argue that it’s our unique human destiny to see meaning where meaning does not exist—to imagine faces in the moon and see weeping willows as sorrowful creatures because of the particular drape of their branches. But I wonder sometimes if these things really exist only in our minds, or if our perception of the ‘inner life of objects’ is in fact based upon something real. In the end, we know so little about the seething quantum forces that compose our world, or the laws that have drawn breath and dreams out of mere aggregates of chemicals. Who are we to say that trees have no souls? I should think they might reasonably believe the same of us…

1 Comment

  1. Brett said,

    Short but effective piece. I wrote this in high school after my friend became upset with me pulling leaves off trees and tearing them apart in my hand:

    Sorry to hi-jack your journal sorta, but I thought you might like it and it’s exactly about what your post is about…

    “Flailing Floral Follies”

    Ancient oak, branches broke, leaves so tatt’red
    And torn, break some more, burn it, too — deep scorn
    Inflicts and devours at all hours; how battered
    Thou art! Yet still, it seems fit to forewarn
    Of wicked shells, O’ how they dwell with roots,
    Scattered and severed by such haughty brutes:

    O’ oak! O’ oak! Thou seem’st so broke!

    Youthful fern, leaves impaled, emitting black’st soot;
    To stop, to glance, and drop a match, scorching
    Little left, while a maiden plays her lute:
    sympathy, and tears flow forth, “ease the torching,”
    Flows the notes carrying such love and melody
    At least in wind, ashes will be free:

    O’ fern! O’ fern! Why must thou burn?

    To this day, it remains her favorite poem of mine since I wrote it specially for her :)

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