I still remember my first visit to the Caucasus, the majestic mountains that reach down southern Europe toward the Black Sea and define the region where Armenia, Georgia, and ill-fated Chechnya stand. As we wound up the Military Highway, I was stunned to see what I thought of as mountaineering cows, grazing contendedly on grassy slopes so steep I doubted I could scramble up them safely. Though incongruously massive, they reminded me of bighorn sheep or mountain goats. I thought to myself how wonderfully animals are adapted to their environment, how glorious nature is.
On the way back down, we discovered one of the cows had fallen and lay dead, its legs sticking into the air. This image, of a clumsy bovine mountaineer somehow came to serve for me as an emblem of the modern Romanticization of the natural. Don’t get me wrong, I love Nature deeply and want more than anything to preserve the wild. But I am fascinated by apparent beliefs that natural trumps artificial automatically. The classic example is the individual who refuses to take medicines (many of which are simply purified plant extracts that have undergone rigorous testing) but eagerly gobbles up whatever plant extract is best advertised. Other examples abound of an automatic suspicion of what is artificial (meaning created by humans, though the word has come to mean something perhaps greater). Why do you think that is? Is this simply suspicion of technology? Is it distrust of corporations? The poor track record of human-environmental interactions?
Or is it a great and protracted human self doubt? A need to find in nature the God we have largely deserted in our society? A need to believe that we can fit into the universe?