Of tigers and war
When Roy Horn, of the world famous illusionist team of Siegfried and Roy, was mauled by his trained white tiger on a Las Vegas stage recently, we were provided with a perfect metaphor for what is happening in relationships between humans and wild nature all over the world.
For example, pressing water problems in the Middle Rio Grande, exacerbated by development and population expansion, pit human needs against an aspect of wild nature. Some feel they can “tame” or control this wild element, while others feel that water resources remain “wild” and unpredictable because they are predicated on things like changing weather patterns, the effects of global warming, and difficult-to-define natural resources, such as the structure and size of aquifers. We are engaged in an act on stage with a tiger that is perceived as behaving well but could go “wild” on us at any moment.
While some of us refuse to regard water as wild, few can deny that wildfires—as we have recently seen in southern California—are indeed wild events and represent the epitome of our struggles with nature. The fires in California should alert Middle Rio Grande citizens living next to, or in the midst of, wild nature to the dangers that can threaten their lives and property.
Ray Ring of the High Country News puts his finger on it in an article aptly titled “Fire Comes With The Territory,” saying, “[A]lthough we know that wildfire is for the most part natural and impossible to suppress, we seem incapable of disengaging from our war against it. . . .[T]he National Fire Plan [is] a behemoth that seeks not only to fight wildfires but also to reduce their fuel through thinning, pruning, raking and other “mechanical” treatments. This is touted as reform, but really it is more war, in that fire is still cast as the enemy.”
Such wars are not new. As Ring notes, “It began in the American West more than a century ago and still rages today, despite reams of evidence that fires are essential in nature, a primary shaper of plant and animal communities, [and] encourager of diversity of species, the foremost recycler of nutrients.”
Humans caught in wildfires seek someone to blame, and Ring suggests a list including “developers who built in wrong places, dreamers who bought in and didn’t take precautions, foresters and loggers who created thickets by dousing too many fires, environmentalists who obstruct solutions now, politicians who push their own agendas, governments that could never do enough. . . .” The list goes on and on. As with water issues, we can’t seem to come to terms with the realities of being part of the natural world. Thus we “go to war” and engage in endless struggles sapping our energies and wasting our resources until at some point the tiger turns and mauls us, bringing our illusionary performance to a bloody end on the twenty-first century stage.
This tendency to solve our problems with the rest of nature by warfare is graphically illustrated in a book titled Strangely Like War: The Global Assault on Forests, by Derrick Jensen and George Draffan. It is one of the most gripping yet at the same time sad and depressing environmental books I’ve come across. The authors document the veritable slaughter of forests throughout the world over many centuries. Then they show how the current threats to the small percentage of forests left pose an immediate danger to all life on the planet.
With the problem of vanishing forests we have yet another tiger by the tail. Since centuries of warfare have not solved these critical environmental issues, there must be a better approach. If we look to sources such as the Murie Center in Moose, Wyoming—founded by the recently departed Mardy Murie at 101 years of age—we find ways to manage our relationships with nature peacefully.
At the Murie Center they “inspire people to act mindfully on behalf of wild nature. . . [and] explore the value of nature and its connection to the human spirit.” That’s it. As the Chinese sage Lao Tzu put it, “It is so simple, therefore it is difficult to see.” Unless we want to end up like Roy Horn, we had better stop our wars on nature and seek to make peace with it right now.