welcome to HxN 2.0
+ a letter from our editor
|HUMANxNATURE||Mar 4, 2019|
Hi, there. Haley and Missy of HUMANxNATURE here.
Welcome to our official digital space. We have a lot planned for it—new writing, new interviews—not to mention our second print issue (!) in the works, too. But first, we’re giving the essays from our first issue a second home right here. If you supported that issue, whether by backing us on our Kickstarter or buying a copy from our shop—thank you. We hope you might continue to support us here, as we transition to a paid newsletter model to make more, new work possible. (Watch this space for all the details!)
But back to the essays that made all this possible. To get you started, on us, is the opening letter from HxN’s Managing Editor, Haley E.D. Houseman.
We are nature-blind. Humans are, for the most part, consumed by our to-do lists and our personal survival in our exclusively human society. Yet even in the most concrete-covered cities, the natural world breathes and grows, shaping our lives. It is all around us, in wild growth and in potted plants. It’s the birds in the sky, but also a thousand invisible other lives, microscopic, crawling, stretching.
Expand your vision. Look deeper, underneath the pavement. The soil holds a thousand living things that make it rich, a dense micro-forest of mycelium and stones and decaying plants, filled with small wriggling creatures in numbers we cannot conceive of. That community made it fertile to feed a million animals and plants that would take you lifetimes to list, and overwhelm you if you tried to greet each one by name.
Paying attention to nature is not a panacea for our individual lives. No matter how attentive you are, it’s likely your patio’s potted plants cannot pay your bills, heal your wounds, or feed your family each day. The flight of birds is not as urgent as the path of cars in the street. The natural world ranks less vital than our daily survival. But a closer attention to it does help us to see how we are shifting the world around us, and how we can next reach out to shape it deliberately.
This world can seem like backdrop, but in truth it’s the storyteller. Understanding it that way requires a shift in framing, pulled way out wide in ways that accentuate our individual smallness. Humanity, as a general rule, does not prefer to see itself this way. Even daily life could bring us real awareness of the sacrifices the natural world bears to grant us this new morning, this cup of coffee. But we force it into the background of our lives instead.
A changed planet is not just coming—it is already here. It’s time for us to invite nature into ourselves, to know the consequences of our hunger.Would the true cost of that appetite consume your heart like a fire? Would you weep and rage and cry that nothing could be done, because one person cannot plant a forest, let alone hold space for the pain of everything now missing? Or would the silence just burn?
This is a kind of radical empathy, not just for humanity, but extended to other organisms. It’s an existence founded on extimacy with the world as well as intimacy. It hurts, it’s bewildering, but it’s right, too, to listen for the heartbeat of life. A sense of relief comes from trying to make peace with the destructive hunger and pick up the pieces.
What happens when the woods are silent and hot, and the sun bakes down on crumbling soil? When each leaf is bleached, the color drained out of it? Nothing stirs on the banks of the river where frogs and turtles once sunned themselves. There is only absence. Wisps of a nest are tangled in the crown of a pine tree, but it sits undisturbed and uninhabited. Even the wind is warm and close and empty, with no susurrus of insects. The beating of wings has faded from the sky and soon, from memory. Somewhere in the distance, the steady drone of a highway underpins the light rustling of dry branches.
The silence is not just quiet but empty, a loneliness we can feel in our bones when we recognize it. It’s a wash of relief then when birdsong still shatters the quiet. How grateful we should be that the chickadee and the blue jay still remain with us even as we build highways and houses in their homes.
A new relationship with nature asks for our humility to decenter the human from the narrative of our world. It asks us to open our eyes to the way trees twist their sturdy boughs to follow the sun. Witnessing the natural world as it is, and imagining what it could be, is a means of recognizing and placating, though not escaping, our environmental anxiety. Tending to the earth is tending to ourselves—a relationship we cannot yet even imagine.
We can start by looking. Look carefully today—you will see birds, and more than just city pigeons or suburban robins. You know their names, even if you’ve forgotten them. They’re not just part of the backdrop, but the community of the natural world. We’ve opted to distance ourselves from it. But if we choose to, we can recall the obvious ways in which the flora and fauna of our lives build the foundation of the world we know. It takes no specialization and costs no money—it requires only our curiosity and attention. We ignore this relationship every day of our lives, yet it’s the one that shapes the course of all the others.
Retrain your eyes to see the natural world and its members. Make them less invisible. We’ve already lost so much. Estimates suggest that literally dozens of species go extinct every day, more than we could ever learn or name. This is our last chance to invite back a sliver of what once was. It will never be fully as it was again; the deep dark of the future is here and unstoppable. So we must begin this work now.
Haley E.D. Houseman is a writer and editor who splits her time between the New England woods and New York City. She writes about the natural world and the modern mystical. You can find her at the library or in the garden, depending on the weather. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @hedhouseman.