Sunday, August 31, 2014

Handmade Landscapes


THE earth isn’t the same when you fly over it at 3,000 feet. It’s easy to lose your bearings. All the reassuring textures of daily life are lost. But it’s a grand perch for viewing our tracks on the ground — visible everywhere and just as readable as the cleft-heart footprints left by white-tailed deer.The landscape looks very different than it did to our forebears, although we still use the 16th-century Dutch word (lantscap) to mean the natural scenery of our lives. Peering out of an airplane window, we can see how we’ve gradually redefined that rustic idea. No longer does it apply only to such untouched wilderness as Alpine crags, sugared coastlines or unruly fields of wildflowers.We manufacture new vistas and move so comfortably among them that quite often we confuse them with natural habitats. A field of giant sunflowers in Arizona or an extravagance of lavender in Provence offer a gorgeous naturalistic tapestry, even though both were sown by human hands.From the air, you can see how mountains lounge like sleeping alligators, and roads cut alongside or zigzag around them. Or slice clean through. Some roads curve to avoid, others to arrive, but many are straight and meet at right angles. Where forests blanket the earth, a shaved ribbon of brown scalp appears with implanted electrical towers.In summer, our agriculture rises as long alternating strips of crops, or quilted patchworks of green velour and brown corduroy. Miles of dark circles show where giant pivoting sprinkler systems are mining the water we unlocked deep below ground, which we’re using to irrigate medallions of corn, wheat, alfalfa or soybeans. In spring, evenly spaced rows of pink or white tufts tell of apple and cherry orchards. Among houses and between farms, small fragments of wooded land remain untouched: Either the land is too wet, rocky or hilly to build on, or the locals have set it aside on purpose. Either way, it proclaims our presence, just as the canals and clipped golf courses do.Where dark veins streak the mountains, coal miners have clear-cut forests, shattered several peaks with explosives, scooped up the rubble, dumped it into a valley and begun excavating. The blocks and crumbles of a stone quarry also stand out, and the terraced ziggurats of a copper mine rise above an emerald-green pool.Where mirages swim in the Mojave Desert’s flan of caramel light, tens of thousands of mirrors shimmer to the horizon, each one a panel in an immense solar thermal facility. In other deserts around the world, and on every continent, including Antarctica, arrays of sun-catchers sparkle. Oil refineries trail for miles, swarmed over by pump jacks attacking the hard desert floor like metal woodpeckers and locusts.Newly hewed timber looks like rafts of corks floating toward the sawmills. Red capital T’s are the stigmata of our evaporation ponds, where salt concentrates hard as it’s harvested from seawater, in the process changing the algae and other microorganisms to vivid swirls of psychedelic hues.There’s the azure blue of our municipal swimming pools, and the grids of towns where we live in thick masses piled one upon the other, with the tallest buildings in the center of a town, and long fingers of shorter buildings pointing away from them. The cooling stacks of our nuclear power plants stare up with the blank eyes of statues. Low, false clouds pour from the smokestacks atop steel and iron plants, factories and power stations.These are but a few signs of our presence. Of course, our scat is visible, too. Junkyards and recycling centers edge all the towns, heaped with blocks of compressed metals and the black curls of old tires, swirling with scavenging gulls.According to the Bible, Adam named the animals. Once mankind named them, they seemed ours to do with as we wished. Yet we were never as distant as we thought, and if we are learning anything in the Anthropocene, it is that we are not really separate from the plants and animals. An important part of the landscape now, our built environments are also an expression of nature — termites erect mounds, humans erect farms and cities — and can more, or less, sustainable. The choice is ours.The author, most recently, of “The Human Age: The World Shaped

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

This excerpt shows how out of touch we have become with nature and the landscapes of our ancestors. Our landscapes have become protected forests and parks, because our society is overproducing and creating our own landscapes in the form of cities and farms that scatter the earth. We confuse these manmade landscapes with the natural landscapes, and we often forget that in order to make room for these manmade areas we have to carve out the natural land around us like mountains and forests. We’ve become out of touch with our natural surroundings, and confuse our manmade surroundings with those of nature, like the excerpt said, “A field of giant sunflowers in Arizona or an extravagance of lavender in Provence offer a gorgeous naturalistic tapestry, even though both were sown by human hands.”
I agree with the excerpt in saying that we need to become more in touch with our natural surroundings and get back to our ancestral roots. In order to become sustainable we need to treat the earth and animals and everything around us with the respect it deserves.

-Marrina Gallant

Maria Hernandez-Norris said...

I couldn't agree more with Marrina. This article really portrays the sad and distant relationships humanity has with it mother earth. Even in our protection of certain parts of the earth, we do it as if putting a parent in a nursing home. We should instead have them move in with us so we can care for them and, in many ways, return the favor.
I like how the bible was alluded to as that will help touch a greater audience. Moreover, I really enjoyed the passionate detail.

- Maria Hernandez-Norris

Anonymous said...

"Yet we were never as distant as we thought...we are not really separate from the plants and animals."

It's true that we erect cities and towns, that we waste so much in attempting to tame and harvest from the planet, and that there's no escaping the problem of sustainability in the modern world. But this piece is not about how removed humans and societies have become with nature. This piece is about recognizing that humans are not separate from nature. Humans and their societies are as much married with the natural landscapes of places as any other preserved or wild space. Our " "societies" of cities and buildings are no different than the dams beavers build and the "mounds termites erect." We don't need to "respect" the earth in order to take care of it, as Marrina states, because that would imply that humans and the planet are separate and competing entities. Rather, we should recognize we are an extension of Mother Earth, and that we are a "troubled child" amongst all her children, and that we should let the Earth guide us with wisdom of how to treat her better.


-- Micaela Itona

Brianna Connelly said...

Many humans in the modern world tend to forget that we are just one part of earth's community. As the excerpt reads "termites erect mounds, humans erect farms and citities". Human's presense in this world is shown everywhere and I believe that a place that is full of nature such as a deep in the woods is one of the most beauitful and important places on earth. However, more and more of nature is disappearing as we keep building new man made structures. Also, as we keep building these new places, we are taking the homes of other animals and insects. We need to start seeing the world as one community with all living things. There does not have to be any distance between man and nature. However, humans have developed the midset that there is a large distance by the way that we live. In doing so, many humans are polluting the world, taking its beauty, and taking other living things homes. More humans need to learn how to appreciate the resourses and beauty the natural earth gives us.

Brianna Connelly

Dylan Hirsch said...

This brings up a great point that I believe will be prevalent throughout this semester: the relationship with nature and the earth is an ethical question, not a political one. The environmental movement is founded upon a shared ethical principle of the protection of nature rather then the economically one in its opposition. This is why environmental discourse is so inept on a national scale. This article is a grandeur example of how environmentalist view natural in a extremely strong and emotional ethical scope as opposed to its opposition. Its a great article that portrays the personal struggle of all active environmentalist, whom view the world and nature in its entirety.

Anonymous said...

This article shows the ignorance we has human beings have towards the nature around us. We have built into the nature, making it our own landscape to use and live, until we became lost in it. We no longer can distinguish from what "nature" is man-made and what has been there for millions of years. We tear down trees and replant them thinking that it has the same effect as the original beings that once lived there. All around us the world has human footprints. There are few untouched places, and there is hardly anything left to exploit. Unfortunately, people need to realize that we cannot undo this. The only thing that we can hope to do is not make it worse.

Leanna Molnar

Anonymous said...

The passage highlights how humans overlook the fact that natural structures are a separate entity than manmade structures. Although they both make up our environment, they need to be looked at and treated differently than one another. People have gotten accustom to grouping natural beauty with manmade structures that do not have the same effect. They cannot be as beautiful as what is natural, because they are most of the time a negative part of the environment. For example most manmade structures are either polluting or just aesthetically displeasing. The author made clear how people today do not see a distinction and just group everything in their environment together as one. "where forests blanket the earth, a shaved ribbon of brown scalp appears with implanted electrical towers" This is an example of how there is no separation from nature and humanity, and how the pollution cuts right through the forests.
- Jennifer Hare

Anonymous said...

This article really illuminates how destructive it is when humans do not recognize the difference in what is natural and man-made. The comment on recycling centers began to make me think that we must remove the individualism of the issue and address it as a problem in need of a large systematic change to really make a difference.

Also, the connection between human and animal is something we all need to acknowledge. Humanity is not a private entity of ecosystems but rather is tightly embedded within the ecosystem (and highly influential). All animals, and this article uses ants as an example affect the world just the scale of impact differs from species to species.

- Elizabeth Eggimann

Anonymous said...

This article beautifully describes parts of nature, along with how mankind has changed it. Some changes can be for the good- or what we believe/mistaken to be the good- and others for the bad. For instance, in the article, the author talks about how "From the air, you can see how mountains lounge like sleeping alligators, and roads cut alongside or zigzag around them. Or slice clean through. Some roads curve to avoid, others to arrive, but many are straight and meet at right angles. Where forests blanket the earth, a shaved ribbon of brown scalp appears with implanted electrical towers." What the author is attempting to explain here is, that from the air, forest-covered mountains are absolutely beautiful, but you can still see where humans have intervened and scarred the land, and in some instances, it's only so that we can appreciate the beauty from a new angle. Sometimes, the roads that we build to appreciate our surroundings can harm the organisms in the area, and we do so without giving much thought to it.

-Elizabeth Piper Phillips

Anonymous said...

This piece does a great job of showing exactly how humans have altered the natural world. It shows the disconnect between ourselves and the other plant and animal species we share a home with. We've begun to view cities and roads as a natural part of the world when in fact they're the complete opposite. Most everything we have come to know and rely on is manmade. There has been a loss of appreciation and respect for the environment and its inhabitants. In order to prevent the further degradation of the earth humans must find a way to reconnect and bridge the gap between themselves and the natural world. Most people believe we exist separately from the animals and plants, however we are all a part of nature, and therefore equally dependent upon it. Our actions have the biggest impact on the Earth's natural functions, if we do not recognize this and alter our thinking and lifestyles not only will the environment suffer, but we will as well.

Haylei P.

Anonymous said...

This article visually portrays the way humanity has left its mark on the earth. Looking at the changes from a plane in the sky gives a different perceptive than on the ground. We are able to see the large scale impact of our lifestyles that is not normally seen when living our daily lives. Getting a view of the earth from the sky allows us to see all of the infrastructure from roads, buildings, cities and farms that have changed the landscape of the earth. The end of the article poses a great point in showing how termites are able to build large mounds while still being sustainable. Can we find a way to be sustainable similar to the termites? I think we can, but are we past the point of no return?

-Frazer Winsted

Anonymous said...

I like this passage because it beautifully illustrates how blind society has become to its natural surroundings. We have destroyed and rebuilt upon the environment so much that we have no recollection of what it previously looked like. The disconnection that we have created is hurting us but we fail to take action due to our of fear of losing the short term gain. For example, we have become accustomed to staying at luxurious resorts in the mountains and forests and by the oceans. However, we overlook the fact that although the development makes us feel closer to nature, it has only been created at the expense of nature. This contradiction needs to be addressed because in order for us to truly thrive we need to realize that we are apart of something much bigger. We are interdependent with the natural world. Looking down at Earth, we have to realize that the world is much bigger than ourselves and I believe we have a responsibility to take care of it.
- Emma Weis

Anonymous said...

This passage talks about the landscape of our planet and points out how we changed what the word landscape means. It now means the surrounding area, even the manmade, not just the natural landscape. There is nothing particularly wrong with that, words change meaning as we evolve. The part that makes it a problem is that we see ourselves above the landscape and not living in and with it. Having this attitude is bad because it means we view the landscape as just there at our disposal, which is not true. It points out that animals change the landscape and are sustainable, but they are not destroying it. We need to find a way to work with the landscape and compromise, instead of just staying stubborn and working against it. If we do this, like the animals, we can be on our way to sustainability.

-Mikayla Bonnett

Anonymous said...

As a society, we truly are selfish. Unfortunately, everything you look at is carved and manipulated to adjust to our anthropocentric ways of life. The question most our society responds with is: "Why is this selfish? We need this land." That is definitely a debate worth constructing because in my point of view: WE, as a society, whether we believe we are selfish or not are in the wrong. This land is NOT just ours for the taking; we are ruining our future generations and committing extreme intergenerational equity. Ultimately, we need to find a sustainable answer because business as usual is NOT working!

-Nicole Virgona

Ashley Unangst said...

While this post so beautifully describes our planet, to be quite honest it left me nothing but...sad. It's in the description of the human made (often industrial) environments, and how delicately they are described almost makes them sound just as nice as the natural environments, as well as the environments that may have had a human hand such as the "Field[s] of giant sunflowers..." No matter what humans do, we will never fully separate ourselves from the nature around us. We are just as much a part of it as the rocks, as the flowers, and the insects we can't even see. However it us, that harms it the most. We can talk about sustainability, and environmentalism to try to alleviate some of the stress the human race is actually putting on the planet, but in the end...mother nature will always win. We cannot beat her. The earth has it's limit, but when will we hit it? When will the last factory be built before everything is just shut down. I believe we've hit that. If we've gotten to the point where it's these new horrendous industrial environments become so normal, I believe we could very well have already hit it. But now it's time to act.

Michael Tierney said...

This excerpt gives us a better understanding of how much we humans have impacted our world. From the very start where we look outside of a plane to view the landscape, all the way down to the solar panels in the deserts. We have used our knowledge and our skills to create such technology that has helped us adapt and use the resources of our world for the better of mankind, but not always has our usage of the natural resources helped the rest of the world. Actually, in most cases we hurt our world. The dry lines in the earth from where our power cables stretch, the curving roads along the countryside, and the coal and copper mines that are noticeable from up above in a plane. We have used our resources for the better of mankind but not the better of the rest of the planet.

I enjoyed reading this post because it gives a more cunning perspective to what we have done and it really shows what kind of footprint we have left and continue to leave on our beautiful planet.

-- Michael Tierney

Chelsea Dow said...

This passage is a depiction of the beauty that nature can offer us. It is a bittersweet homage to the Earth however because it also details the aesthetic and chemical changes humans have made to the planet. Something that has always stayed imprinted in my mind is the concept of mountain top removal. When I read this passage I think of the picturesque and unique view of a mountain range. It is a visible sign of Earth's ever changing landscape. However, mountain top removal discards mountains beauty for human benefit. Indeed it is another example of anthropocentric paradigms. The passage also depicts the effects of coal mining. "Where dark veins streak the mountains, coal miners have clear-cut forests, shattered several peaks with explosives, scooped up the rubble, dumped it into a valley and begun excavating." Humans have manipulated the land to their benefit and in return the Earth has had to sacrifice its natural beauty.

This article makes me think of humanity and at times our hypocritical nature. As a species we enjoy to be outside. Recreational sports like kayaking, snowboarding, water skiing (etc) all require a healthy thriving planet. We use the Earth for our benefit but do not realize its fragility. This article was a beautiful depiction of the dynamic balance nature and humans, and how our current path leaves natures beauty hindered.

Anonymous said...

I think most have the students have it right already. The author is trying to get across the idea that we often forget what true nature is. We have constructed this false idea of what nature is. Nature in my opinion is defined as things untouched by man. I think its something the author would agree with. Humans need to take a larger part protecting that around us
Nicholas Stanton

Maria-Vitoria Bernardes said...

This article was quite touching. At first I had to read it a few times to understand it, but it is quite beautiful. It is funny because the beginning of the article, the author talks about being up in a plane and viewing the earth from a different perspective. He descriptively outlines the landscape seen from above. The way he describes the earth makes you feel that you are looking into a painting, so delicate and deep getting lost at the sight. He states "The landscape looks very different than it did to our forebears, although we still use the 16th-century Dutch word (lantscap) to mean the natural scenery of our lives". Following this statement he is talking about how us humans have just moved right into this landscape, making roads, buildings, and changing it with our will and power. It is so disappointing that the earth is not a "natural scenery in our lives" any more. Though we still have natural untouched earth; we have taken it over and now, landscape is a small part of our lives. Us, humans are responsible for causing changes in the environment, and most people do not even realize all the damage we have created, and are still creating. I believe that the earth is meant to be our source of life, the animals, the plants, the water and the oxygen. Without it we would not survive. So, why are us humans so careless with our actions? Another statement that I really liked in this article was, "According to the Bible, Adam named the animals. Once mankind named them, they seemed ours to do with as we wished." This is so sad, but very true. As humans we feel as if we can do anything we want,but that is not the case. The earth/nature is here as our supplier, we need to change the way we do things, to replenish what we have left, because without it, were out.

-Maria-Vitoria Bernardes-

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