22 December 2011


I was at the gym the other day and overheard a particularly obnoxious conversation.  Maybe obnoxious is the wrong word; as the conversation illustrates the dynamics of urban myths and ignorant people.  Fortuntately, I could concentrate more on fighting old age decrepitude than listening to the drone of an empty cranium. 

The chat was mostly one-way from a chunky middle-aged woman, whom I'll call the kayak lady, and a polite middle-aged man, whom I'll call John.  I call her the kayak lady as she fancies herself a kayaker.  Instead, I somehow have more vision of a rubber duckie floating in the bathtub, rather than a skilled paddler.  Gotta give her credit for trying.  I just wish she knew the value of quiet, as her voice is one of those that sounds like a red-hot firebrand in the inner ear. 

The conversation was along the lines of a natural healer that removes toxins from the body by soaking your feet in a solution of natural ingredients.  She's been paying this gal for services.  Anyone harken to the dark days of medievil England?  I had to smile, as I thought of someone swishing their feet in an oversize chamber pot filled with the previous evening's contents.  That would be natural, of course. 

The kayak lady explained that her doctor had found some liver spots.  "After about 10 minutes, the water turned brown and I felt so much cleaner!".  Hmmmm.  So many other more likely explanations than having toxins removed from a body through a foot soaking.  Just how bright might this woman be?  Probably close to a black hole of critical thinking.  Poor John is listening intently.  "She uses all natural products."  Rotenone, canine teeth, and heart failure are all natural, too. 

How many suckers swallow this marketing term "natural"?  It means absolutely nothing, just like so many other marketing ploys.  The USA must be filled with near-idjits, as all this marketing actually works!  Billions spent to misrepresent silly things (at best) to acquire many billions more from fools who are happy to be separated from their money.  Yet, the glazed eyes and damaged brains continue to stare at the TV, almost hypnotically. 

On a deeper level, if there is one, what is it about American society that has assigned some ersatz concept of goodness to "natural"?  Nature, naturally, is filled with wonder, beauty, and clever creation.  It's also filled with death, misery, and indifference.  How is it that so many people can only see the anthropomorphically pleasant aspect of nature?  Some might argue that seeing the bright side of things is a healthy attitude.  This is true, for those who cannot.  However, to ignore the complete package, including the "dark" 'side, is equally (if not more) unhealthy.  For wildlife, the fate is premature death. 

By extension, or arguable leap of logic, many resource management practices are dissed because they don't "look natural".  Take the most vicious forest management practice, clearcutting, as an example.  Horrible!  Destructive!  Inconceivable in a civilized society!   


Clearcutting is merely a practice that mimics "natural" catastrophic ecological disturbance for forest types that are "naturally" adapted to catastrophic ecological disturbances.  The difference is that a management regime allows humans to determine the place and time of the disturbance.  Only with management, the downsides of disturbances are minimized and the wood resource is utilized, instead of being converted to carbon dioxide and organic matter.  Of course, carbon dioxide, organic matter, and other products of these wildfires, insect outbreaks, and wind events have ecological benefit.  But mass quantities of them, in one place and at one time, have important negative consequences to humans, and sometimes to ecological balances.  The debacle in many of the mountain forests of the West should be clear examples, but unfortunately, not even these experiences are enough to free the ingrained ignorance of millions who have had their minds disconnected from horse sense. 

These disturbances, naturally, create environmental conditions that favor the regeneration of these forest types.  Without such disturbance, ecological balances go haywire and set the stage for disturbances worse than clearcutting.  It's usually better to work WITH ecological processes than AGAINST them.  Thus, the practice of clearcutting remains an essential tool. 

Now, clearcutting gets a bad name for two reasons; 1) past abuse (and sometimes current) and 2) poor visual quality (lousy measure of ecological health).  See my rant about clearcutting for a fuller explanation.  More important, is how this clearcutting fits into the Madison Avenue generated concept of what is "natural", and then inversely, into what is not natural.  Clearcutting is far more natural than benign neglect.  Any day. 

These American perceptions are entirely "unnatural", to coin a phrase.  These incorrect notions of natural are further advanced and "improved" upon by such despicable organizations as the Sierra Club, which has contributed more ecological damage in this country than the logger barons of a century ago.  Their well-oiled marketing machine has helped turned American care for the environment into a money-making dynamo that serves to fuel itself far more than it fuels conservation.  Even well-meaning and reputable conservation groups, such as The Nature Conservancy, use this marketing money ticket to generate more dollars to pay for their organization and staff people. 

And millions of American buy it.  It's pretty, so therefore it must be good. 

Snake oil sales campaigns are alive and well.  Rampant ignorance still serves as a deep well of dollars. 

For those of us who truly love forests and fields, and work diligently to provide both commondities and environmental benefits, this American of attitude of "natural" is both offensive and discouraging.  Some days, I think maybe it would be better to let these nature lovers sit in the bucket of swill that they unintentionally advocate through ignorance and pollyanna concepts of the natural world.  Only problem with that is that they'll take down the natural world in the process, which is the inevitable outcome that I fear despite the best efforts of natural resource managers across the country.  Mass stupidity is a massive foe. 

The ridiculous kayak lady was only talking about a particular "natural" remedy, most of which are likely to be something less than therapeutically efficacious.  I'm sure she thinks the world is flat, too.  However, she got my mind whirling about the age-old topic of societal values attached to the word "natural" . . . and just how unnatural those values too often are. 

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