What remains of the wild nature hidden deep in the recesses of the soul? Here in the ultra-post-post modern world, most of us in the western world are hard-pressed to live in a way which preserves our instinctual nature, the Wild Soul. Many authors and Jungians have lamented this fact, and tonight I am one of them.
Although I am the first to admit that I loathe being a realist, at times I need to be, if only in an attempt at clarification of where we stand now. The facts are sobering indeed. Our wild earth is giving way to development of the land (some might say destruction) at a frightening speed. I will not bore you with all the facts, however it is useful to look at demographics. Here is something from Wikipedia:
In 1800, only 3% of the world’s population lived in cities, a figure that has risen to 47% by the end of the twentieth century. In 1950, there were 83 cities with populations exceeding one million; by 2007, this number had risen to 468. If the trend continues, the world’s urban population will double every 38 years. The UN forecasts that today’s urban population of 3.2 billion will rise to nearly 5 billion by 2030, when three out of five people will live in cities.
By 2025, according to the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asia alone will have at least 10 megacities, including Mumbai, India (33 million), Shanghai, China (27 million), Karachi, Pakistan (26.5 million), Dhaka, Bangladesh (26 million) and Jakarta, Indonesia (24.9 million people). Lagos, Nigeria has grown from 300,000 in 1950 to an estimated 12.5 million today, and the Nigerian government estimates that the city will have expanded to 25 million residents by 2015.
The article states that “a megacity is usually defined as a metropolitan area with a total population in excess of 10 million people. Some definitions also set a minimum level for population density (at least 2,000 persons/square km). A megacity can be a single metropolitan area or two or more metropolitan areas that converge. The terms “megapolis'” and megalopolis are sometimes used synonymously with megacity, though those terms denote a semi-continuous chain of large metropolitan cities.”
With so much of humanity living in highly populated areas, opportunities for the human soul to be in regular connection with wildness (by this I mean an area in which nature is left to itself to grow and be as it will, without much or any human intervention) become relatively rare, or even non-existent. In just 200 years, we have gone from only 3% of humanity living in cities, to now nearly half of the world’s population becoming urban dwellers.
Obviously, no longer having easy access to wildness affects one’s soul profoundly. This is certainly the stuff of science fiction. Wikipedia has this to say about the Mega City found in the Matrix films:
The concept of the City in The Matrix and its sequels is an archetype of the hyperreality theory proposed by Jean Baudrillard and developed by Umberto Eco; that is that the virtual “city” constructed by the machines controlling the society is more convincing and realistic to its inhabitants than the “real world” – a dystopian future noir portrayed in stark contrast to the virtual one.
The harsh, gray, uninteresting landscape was implemented to make sure the unknowing inhabitants of the Matrix did not question their living space, lacking an alternative. It is possible that the City is an inhabitant-unique environment, in which no one sees things the same way.
This evening I walked up into one of my favorite semi-wild places above Silkeborg, a beautiful forest filled with large silver beech, birch, oak and fir trees. Though ‘managed’ by the municipality, they mostly leave the place alone to grow as it wants (at least for the moment.) With all the rain and cool weather this summer, the forest is quietly growing, as well as a patch of meadow in the middle of it, created from a logging clearcut long ago. I walked in the meadow, observing clumps of native grasses grown taller than I am, with feathery, purplish and brown ends rising up from tough green stalks; emerald green, soft moss covering the tree stumps, black and orange slugs living here and there, black beetles, grasshoppers, large, interesting mayflies, patches of a kind of small wild berry which grow all around the woods. I stood in the clearing a long time, experiencing all this life growing around me, the trees at the perimeter waving in the wind, the sky cerulean blue with wispy white evening clouds high above. A wild place, where shy animals may come at night, such as deer, mice, wild hares, perhaps even owls, to be their wild selves. Even in Denmark, a land which has been tamed for centuries, there still remains some wilderness.
I lived in the western United States for most of my adult life, and have had the distinct pleasure of seeing some truly wild places: the huge forests and meadows in the Rocky mountains, fern forests of the Pacific Northwest, lonely, wild places way up in the Medicine Bow forest of Wyoming. Places where few humans come, where nature is allowed to simply be wild. I feel so blessed to have experienced this kind of wilderness in my life and I know it has fundamentally changed me for the better. I understand the importance of wildness to my well-being, that my soul needs to be able to feel nature around me in an untamed way.
It is my belief that all humans need to connect with their wild nature, and there is no better way to do this than through the earth itself: breathing it, feeling it, seeing, smelling, hearing it, and even tasting it now and then! Humanity is suffering greatly through the loss of connection with wildness, the loss of the ability to experience nature through our senses. According to the predictions for population growth over this coming century, things will only get less and less wild, more urban and in the process, less human. Dear Readers, I am greatly concerned about this prospect, more than I could possibly articulate here. Concerned about the earth itself, certainly. Yet I feel that somehow Earth will remain and continue in spite of humans’ short-sightedness and egoism. I am more concerned about Humanity itself. What kind of a world will it be without wild places to rest in, with no more nature to heal our souls? I wish so much to hold onto hope that somehow, miraculously, humans will suddenly wake up to how their obliviousness has been destroying the earth, and will, en masse, take action to stop this insanity and restore our respect for the natural world. In fact, I wish this more than anything else. Yet, as I wrote at the beginning of this piece, part of me is a realist. The realist can see that all signs point to a Matrix-like world of Mega Cities, the continuation of nature’s devastation, and a future world that, frankly, I do not have any desire to be part of. Maybe I will check out of the world and not have to see it, but what about my and your children, grandchildren, great-great grandchildren– what about all the generations to come? Do they not deserve to walk in the wild forests, to experience nature untamed, to feel the wind blow through their souls?
How can we reverse these ultra-damaging trends of humanity in the years ahead, and instead find a way to live that is not about materialism and soullessness, but rather about regaining one’s wild soul and in the process, one’s inherent dignity as a human upon this planet we call home? This is the crucial question of our time.
Sleeping In The Forest by Mary Oliver
I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.
- Megacities: Five of the World’s ‘Biggest’ Cities (sustainablecitiescollective.com)
- Agenda 21 Dense MegaCities of the Future Now Underway (activistpost.com)
- China Sky Cities Trying for Clean and Safe Versions of Judge Dredd’s Stratoscapers and Megacities (nextbigfuture.com)
- Rio+20: megacities strive to survive – and thrive (csmonitor.com)