Brickner: Nature calls

Joan Brickner, Forum Readers Board

Recently, our friends Kristen and Trevor guided us to the Washington County Park, near their home, outside St. Paul.

It was a perfect evening, wandering along the paths, minding any minefields of horse dung. Amber light. The sun spied on us through a blue, cloudless sky. Trees and tall grasses angled their shadows on the water – sometimes swamp, sometimes lake. Reportedly there were goats, but we did not spot one.

After months of staying mostly cooped up, with work and Netflix, it was good to breathe in the fresh air, far from the sounds of traffic. Nature can restore us, yet it is under attack.

As an adult, I learned to appreciate nature. I have traveled, sometimes camped, along Bruce Trail in Ontario, with divers from Germany and Japan pitching themselves into turquoise waters. We drove along Beartooth Pass, after the Badlands, to the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier and elsewhere. These were powerful journeys of humbling beauty.

Researchers find nature heals, even helping those with mental illness or drug addiction.



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As an instructor, I had the opportunity to teach Nature Writers. As a tool for understanding, I created a chart for students to classify works that sometimes overlapped: Eden (Thoreau, beauty of nature), the Fall of Eden (Alexievich’s book of a nuclear tragedy "Voices from Chernobyl," or issues of pollution, loss of species, climate change), and the Restoration of Eden (the clean-up of toxic waste, the creation of urban farms, like Novella Carpenter’s "Farm City"). Where do we wish to fit our land and water?
We have a responsibility to protect nature; to nurture what nurtures us. Our natural bodies are largely water and dust, so it’s reasonable. This isn’t a matter of being tree-huggers. It’s life and death. Yet we see some in the current administration championing a rush to deregulate, based on the false belief that rules kill the economy, when nature can increase jobs and protect our health.

We have stepped away from the Paris Climate Accords, even as oceans rise and natural disasters increase – earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, floods. The conservative magazine Forbes shows climate change will lead to more pandemics, like COVID-19.

Rollbacks, a hundred of them under this administration, risk our lives and livelihoods. They mean more pollution in the air, ground and water. We’ve reduced reporting on oil leaks and fracking. We’ve lightened up on regulating mercury under this administration. The EPA decided against banning chlorpyrifos, a chemical linked to health problems in children. Having come from Michigan, myself, where Flint water’s lead still pollutes, causing rashes, illnesses, developmental damage to children, and death, science must not be ignored.

Somehow, the economy has become God for many. But what good is it if it leads to tragedies like the one in "Erin Brockovich"? If Cancer Alley’s toxic waste in Mississippi and Louisiana continues to kill young and old? Or if we kill off species, through pesticides or chemicals, that are essential for agriculture, like bees or plants that may provide cures for diseases?

America the Beautiful is threatened. Nature calls for help: will we answer? Or will we suffer a permanent fall from Eden?

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