Nature
    Nature is the world around us, except for human-made phenomena. As humans are the only animal species that consciously, powerfully manipulates the environment, we think of ourselves as exalted, as special. We acknowledge that in an objective view we are merely one of many organisms, and that we are not able to survive outside of our natural world of air, earth, water and life. But we tend to be poor leaders in the "hierarchy" of animal life. Despite our greatness, too often we waste, we fight, we breed heedlessly, and are too self-centered and short-sighted. I take note of the increasing awareness of ecology, at least in Western culture, and am heartened. We may still change our weapons of war into tools of peace, and our habits of despoilation into nuturing.
    Earth is so large, that even if humans destroy ourselves, plus most other life forms, there will still be nature. The soil, oceans, atmosphere and weather would still interact with solar power to allow some life to exist. Earth cannot be a barren place like the moon. Humans can, then, reduce our planetary paradise into a hell of sorts, but cannot, I believe, destroy the planet itself.
    This thought, sober and gloomy, is a modern one; in earlier ages it is unlikely that people contemplated ourselves wiping-out most life on earth. I don't know why I brought it to the forefront of my nature essay. It does offer a perspective.
    Nature's life forces, as well as its winds, eruptions, quakes, avalanches, freezes, etc., is immensely powerful. I recall being allowed to study revegetation on the freshly-erupted Mt. St. Helens. It was more than 10 years ago, so my memory has retained only a few observations: life was strongest near water sources, and the weediest plants were most successful in revegetating the barren gray ash. Mosses tolerant of Seattle's freeway cracks grew on the loose sand and ash. Fireweed, which thrives after forest fires, clear-cuts and bombed sites, was abundant. If memory serves, scientists in general expressed pleased surprise at the rapidity of revegetation.

    Even in this age of high-technology, where many people who live in cities and work full-time with computers see but little nature intimately -- at least we all are still aware of the weather and the seasons. We all know that a short, rainy winter day is less pleasant than a warm sunny June day. Most of us are cheered at the return of spring, and we mostly have certain pleasant or striking memories we associate with each season.
    My awareness of nature was at this relatively normal level until high school. I recall as an 8th grade student, that nature was wholly unappealing to me. I liked sports, music, comic books, stamp collecting, and whatnot. Trees were trees, grass was grass, flowers were flowers and weeds were weeds. But by the time I was in 10th grade, and especially 11th grade, I had been affected profoundly by nature awareness. I went from a normal worldview to one wherein the value of being aware of and appreciative of nature was a centerpiece. In retrospect, this was the pivotal transformation of my life.
    In high school I went from just another one of the guys into a person whose passion and livelihood became nature. The process was begun, I think, by my having read Thoreau's Walden. I did this because I was exhorted to do so by an influential 8th grade teacher, George Hofbauer. Walden affected me, as I was at that ripe, receptive, impressionable age. In turn I read other authors: Emerson, Goethe, Voltaire, Carlyle, Plato, Marcus Aurelius, Schopenhauer, Pascal, Montaigne, etc. A common theme in all the writings was the importance of nature, of calmly reflecting, and of thinking for oneself. Goethe wrote:

    The thoughtful man's greatest comfort
    is to have explored what can be known
    and to worship the unfathomable quietly.

    I began meditating under trees, listening to birds, tasting wild berries, and finding joy and excitement, meaning and inspiration. My self-confidence boomed, my sense of being an individual blossomed. I began designing a custom meal for myself from the menu of life.
    The awareness of natural beauty was like a revelation. I looked at, and experienced, all manner of organisms, and light. Rainfall or windstorms became celebratory. At the time I had boundless ambition and wanted to learn the names and attributes of all the birds, butterflies, spiders, insects, seashells, plants, stars and constellations -- etc. It was a kind of euphoria. I saw the utility of such knowledge, too. How to raise vegetables and berries, and which plants in the wild were edible, appealed greatly to me. I began gardening. At the time I thought I'd grow up, move to the country, and be self-sufficient. I kept a journal in which I recorded plant flowering dates, and all my natural history observations. I gave up my hobbies of basketball, stamp collecting and the like. By and by my love of plants outgrew my interest in other aspects of natural history.
    I learned a whale of a lot about plant life in Seattle. I learned in an intimate way, from keen curiosity, combined with lengthy hours spent outdoors. I became an expert without even trying, by just pursuing my inclinations. The principles of life, previously mere broad abstractions to me, became plainly clear. I saw firsthand how environment and genetics, together, affect life. I saw nature's pace -- before I'd only considered humanity's.
    When these and many other observations crystallized in my mind, the result was my sense of having a coherent, logical philosophy. I felt grounded. From nature study, then, I developed my critical faculties, I gained practical information, derived inspiration and joy, and welded my personal worldview. Nature, plus the wise words I'd read from writers of the past, were my sources. My schooling was typical; all that really sets me apart is owed to what I did on my own.
    This in not an unmitigated plus. When one has an odd perspective, and so sees things in a rare way, communicating with others of more traditional or conventional outlook can be difficult. For example, if I believe the soil is sacred, and yet the prevailing assumption is that it is dirt -- we're worlds apart from compromise.
    Some people, Buddhists example, revere all life and will go to considerable lengths to end none. So they won't swat mosquitoes, don't eat meat, etc. Again, I look at the whole realm of living nature as one big biological web or food chain, with herbivores, carnivores and omnivores. As such, I have no philosophic qualms about taking life: I might eat a catfish for lunch; a lion might eat me for dinner. I do earnestly respect life, and agree to not wantonly destroy it. But to not squish mosquitoes or step on slugs is going too far for my sense of practical living.
    I would prefer that people based their philosophies more on nature study and reflection, rather than nearly wholly on what their parents or influential peers tell them. But the weight of tradition is on the side of relatively uncritical acceptance of whatever one's mainstream society believes in.
    The thought processes, and inspiration brought about by nature, are available to humans who study the wild, or tame nature. Just having a pet goldfish and some houseplants is better than no experience at all. And one can have a small garden, not need a wilderness experience, to be fed physically and mentally. I would go so far as to say humans have an instinctive need for nature, since we evolved under its influences. So to live, say, in a cave, with only artificial light, and only human-made objects, would be a severe strain. Along this line, the sterility of hospital rooms is frightful -- I am glad about the emergence of "horticultural therapy" and the like.
    One of my motives in sharing what I've learned from nature study is to help empower others. Even if a person doesn't find nature effective for inspiration or education, it is good to "strike it off the list of possibilities" and go on to sample something else, such as religion, art, work, etc. Find your love in life and pursue it passionately.