Today’s visit to the Bloedel Reserve for Journey to the Surface of Bainbridge got me thinking about contrasts and contradictions. On the one hand, the Bloedels made their money by processing timber cut from old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. On the other hand, Prentice Bloedel pioneered using wood waste (sawdust, etc) to create pressed wood logs, and was the first to plant seedlings in clear cut areas. Mr. Bloedel clearly cared about the environment and about nature and believed in the emotional and mental benefits of spending time in nature.

The Bloedel Reserve itself is filled with contrasts. There are areas of the estate that have been left to feel more like natural woodlands, while other areas are landscaped to perfection. There are a wide variety of native species, as well as imported plants of all kinds. We love being there, we appreciate the beauty of the different spaces of the estate, and the ease with which we can walk around the grounds on well-tended paths. And yet, while we are there, we realize that it is not “wild”, and it is not particularly “natural”.

We humans are part of nature. We are nature. And yet, so much of the lifestyle we have created for ourselves seems so unnatural. Our food comes wrapped in plastic and yet it is food grown in soil and without that soil and the air and the water and the microbes and the sunlight there would be no food. We work in offices and travel in cars and live in concrete suburbs, and yet we place photographs of wild and pristine scenes on our walls because in our deepest place, we know… we are nature.

We have tried to dominate nature; we have tried to separate ourselves from the most uncomfortable parts of nature; we make special trips to go out and “be in nature.” We are a strange species.

One day, when we are forced either by regulation or circumstance to end all use of fossil fuels, we will experience nature in a whole new way… or rather, a whole old way again. Almost certainly, we will be remembering old ways of doing things we thought we’d long forgotten, or perhaps have rediscovered, as we try once again to work with nature. And perhaps, we will have fewer contradictions.