Freud found an absorbing study in “Civilization and its Discontents,” but nature has its share of discontents as well. I admit I am not a hiker, camper, trailblazer, rock climber, or frond plucker. Dylan Thomas, who sometimes was called a nature poet, denied the charge saying he knew only two birds, “One is the robin and the other isn’t.”
This captures my level of knowledge of and interest in nature. I appreciate it as a scenic backdrop. Green trees are lovely to walk beneath, though their bare ruined choirs in winter are cold skeletal horror shows. Indeed, if nature insists on having seasons, three would have been plenty. Perhaps only two.
But if nature is often heavenly as scenery, it is often hell to live with in close proximity. My older house sits along an older street lined with tall stately older trees which are pleasant to contemplate. But they have a habit at their age of toppling over on houses during storms or dropping limbs on autos. And when they give up the ghost they are bankrupting to remove.
One of these decorative objects produces some sort of slimy effluvium that is surprisingly difficult to remove from auto exteriors so that at certain times of year you are likely to adhere to the vehicle when you try to open the door and see only a blur through the windshield. One also has a sneaking suspicion that this substance is either a byproduct of tree disease or an exuberant expression of arboreal reproduction. Either way, who wants to be under it when it drops from the sky.
In the aptly named fall, leaves filter down fetchingly, but their poetic charm palls when you have to climb ladders to get them off the roof and out of the gutters or rake them laboriously or suffer the deafening whine of the leaf blower — worst invention ever — up and down the street. In my youth the annual leaf ordeal was at least climaxed with cheerful, warming bonfires, but they are now ruled ecologically incorrect.
Also in fall acorns or other nutlike objects cannonade down from above like heavy hail on any car in the driveway and strew the walk as if with a thousand marbles spilled by a malicious child. Thus, a journey of 20 feet can be life threatening.
Lawns and gardens, too, are more trouble than they’re worth. Yes, in glossy home and garden magazines they look perfect — worthy of Capability Brown, Frederick Law Olmsted or Le Notre, but those fellows commanded small armies of pruners, sod-layers and weeders. In real life the lawn constantly needs mowing, the turf turns to weeds and specialists may have to be called in for expensive medications or transplants. Gardens start with high hopes, but are demanding and soon grow rank and unweeded, brown rather than green, stubbornly resisting all efforts to tame them. Dr. Johnson said of sex that “the pleasure is fleeting, the position ridiculous and the expense damnable.” I can’t say I share that view, but his catalog perfectly describes gardening.
If all of the above weren’t bad enough, the small scale productions of nature can loom large. Sure, “holiday tables under the trees, there in the breeze” sound ideal, but the poet failed to sing of the accompanying allergies that turn you into a weeping wreck.
Not the mention the ticks, fleas, wasps, mites. God knows what infinitesimal evil lurks in these innocent appearing blooms, grasses, sprouts and fungi. Poor little buttercup, indeed. The thing may be a death trap.
I hasten to add that I don’t want nature to go away, unlike certain industrialists and most real estate developers. But I do feel about it as I do about other people’s children and pets. If I don’t bother nature, I would prefer that it not bother me. I conclude nature is best experienced from behind thick glass in HEPA-filtered air. Or even better in a canvas by Constable, Cole, Lorraine or Pissarro. There nature is as ideal as Arcadia, and a lot less trouble than my own overgrown, leaf and nut strewn, bug and crabgrass-infested yard.