16 April

After Everything, What Remains? Nature…

by Jon Katz

When the poet Walt Whitman was in his 50’s he suffered a stroke and moved from Washington to New Jersey where he spent the rest of his life. In his mid-60’s, he wrote about the joy and satisfaction he found in life, despite his disabilities. The stroke was a part of his life, he wrote, not his life.

“After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, love, and so on — have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear – what remains? Nature remains, to bring out from their torpid recesses, the affinity of a man or woman with the open air, the trees, fields, the changes of seasons – the sun by day, and the stars of heaven by night.”

I love the idea that after all of our struggles and yearnings and triumphs and disappointments, there is nature. For most of my life I was disconnected from nature, as most of our countrymen and women are. If you live apart from nature, it is easy enough to forget it.

Living in nature is not natural for me, I was born in cities and lived in cities most of my life. When I exhausted what there was for me in my other life, and found that none of them permanently satisfied me, i  fled the familiar for the unfamiliar, for nature, for a life in the hills and with animals.

Nature satisfied me, it does not wear. In the morning, I listen to the donkeys crunching on their hay, their chomps are reassuring and grounding to me. I look up at the mists in the hills, as the sun streaking through the woods in the morning. Like everyone who loves nature, I fear for it.

Pope Francis calls on us to become painfully aware – in the face of arrogance and greed – to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.

I accept that call. I am aware of the dry ground, the washed out soil, the drying wells, the thinning creeks, the vanishing birds, the dying gardens, the vanishing bees, the dying trees. Nature is not a stranger to us, it is us. I can see what we are doing to it, every day, right out my window.

I wonder if it might happen that when we have amassed all of the wealth that there is in the world, and all of the power and come to see that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear, we will discover nature again and turn away from pollution, waste and the throwaway culture. And if so, I wonder of Mother Earth will ever forgive us and take us back?


  1. This strikes a chord with me. I recently read a novel, The Strange Bird, about a strange bird that escapes from a biolab, the bird’s travels, bitter struggles, harrowing transformations and a bit of mercy. By the time it reaches the destination it’s been moving towards, it is a changed thing (though still a strange bird.) I call it hope on a thread, that even if humans damage the planet so we can no longer live, the planet will survive and ultimately heal itself. Though I’d rather we did too, and will do what I can toward that end.

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