We shape the land

Hit and Miss #50

I spent last Sunday morning sitting with a friend in the shade of Parliament Hill, talking and watching the birds on the water. That evening, I sat in nearby Strathcona Park, reading and watching the birds on the water.

Compared to most of the city around me, both spots feel “natural”, though both have been heavily shaped and manicured over time. In an urban setting, this is no surprise: little remains untouched over years of city building. But even our rural spaces, those that feel wilder or those that we might describe as “nature”, have been affected by human action.

This week, I read The Shepherd’s Life, by James Rebanks. In it, he describes the human shaping of the English Lake District’s pastoral landscape:

We shaped this landscape, and we were shaped by it in turn. … It is what it is because of my people and people like them.

It is, above all, a peopled landscape. Every acre of it has been defined by the actions of men and women over the past ten thousand years.

Similarly, J.B. MacKinnon devotes an entire book to how what we consider to be “natural” and “untouched” is anything but:

The nature that we live with is a choice. … No one, certainly no single generation, decided our trajectory from a richer to a poorer ecological world. … It’s another maxim from historical ecology: we excuse, permit, adapt—and forget. We’ve been adrift as a species, making choices without remembering what our options are. …

We have changed the earth to such an extent that even if it was possible to suddenly lay down our tools, we would still end up with a world of our own creation. The choices going forward are our own, however squeamish we may be about human hubris, however unwilling we may be to shoulder responsibility for the rest of creation.

The challenge of climate change to humanity is enormous, and it’s not one I think we’ll surmount. I don’t know how to contribute, other than to make my countless daily decisions a little more mindfully, and to point out the depth of humanity’s influence on our planet. Even untouched spaces feel humanity’s presence.

All the best for the week ahead, and good luck with making good choices.