Eugene Weekly : Taking Nature to the Streets : 9.30.10

Flesh on Fire
Our consumption is consuming us
By Eric Alan

In case you haven’t noticed, your flesh is on fire. Not literally, perhaps, unless you live too close to an unsafe gas line or have suffered spontaneous combustion as a Spinal Tap drummer. Still, as climate change turns the Earth into one giant barbecue, we’re both a cause and a main course. This is one hell of a societal tailgate party.

That’s the trouble with decadence: It’s fun. Its altered state temporarily obscures the price of enjoyment. Environmental irresponsibility is difficult to stop, in part, because it’s such a good time. (Want to go for a great long drive while we ponder it?) The delusional high is that nature appears to be Other when the stereo and air conditioning are on as we roll down that sweet scorching road.

Viewing nature as Other, we’ve created lengthy life spans and the ability to sit safely on couches watching The Colbert Report. But even when couch potatoes hit summer rivers to get in touch with their inner tubers, something remains missing. Our ways have given us stress born of separation from instinct and the context for which we were born. The litter is piling up in our souls. The pollution is visible in our eyes. We’ll have to do more than float the Willamette on Saturdays to return to daily integration with nature and its wisdom.

Forget waiting for distant government to prioritize nature. Congress is a marriage that’s over, Republicans and Democrats just two screaming parents too bitter to place the needs of the family over revenge. Our government is no more Other than nature is — it’s essential family still — but it’s not a reliable guardian.

Corporations may prioritize our own habitat even less than bitter governments, but forget corporate overthrow too. Business can and must be done according to natural principle; and corporations are as established as foxes, when it comes to life forms. In the great food chain, they’ve found a role — just as money itself has — and they’re here to stay. They’re not Other either.

It will take a revolution now to keep our consumption from consuming us, but the leadership of it is on our own small shoulders (and nature’s large ones). Taking nature to the streets is a radical personal act. There’s no longer time for any other choice. It will have to be an act of swarm intelligence, where wise but small individual acts add up to collective cohesion. It needs to be the human version of a coordinated aerial turn by a flock of birds, choreographed by individual choices in the moment. It must parallel the architectural marvels of African termites; the community flow of every anthill underfoot. And it will have to be a revolution of respect and compassion for all who seem like Other, including corporations and governments, mosquitoes and people with conflicting faith.

Fortunately, nature remains the most fiercely untamed resident in these “civilized” mazes, insistently pushing through the cracks of steel, concrete and our own hard shells. Oregon’s urban and rural lands are vividly, defiantly beautiful because of this—rebels themselves, as much as any of us. Untamed life grows despite us and within us.

Taking nature to the streets doesn’t have to be an act of sacrifice and suffering, either. Just as healing is more pleasurable than addiction, in the long run, so is the return to nature’s wisdom and ways. There’s no going back to the vanished wilderness, but this is a wilderness still, with its own wild rules of survival. Realignments of vision and habit can decrease stress within it, lessen waste and wasted efforts, restore our connection to soil and soul. It may end the great tailgate party, but the keg’s almost dry anyway.

 Taking nature to the streets begins a revolution of celebrating the intense beauty and wisdom in the intricate weave that not only surrounds us — it is us. Time to own it, revel in it, be the full beautiful wildness latent within us. It’s either that or slowly die.  

Eric Alan is author/photographer of the books Grace and Tranquility and Wild Grace: Nature as a Spiritual Path, and teaches workshops on the reintegration of nature into daily life. He’s also a professional broadcaster currently heard on KLCC as a host of Fresh Tracks. His books, blog and other information can be found at He can be reached at