“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”
–Henry David Thoreau, Walden 1854
For those of us who make our homes in ski towns, spend our vacations in the wilderness and devote our lives to ticking peaks and breaks off our daily to-do lists, our relationship with nature likely seems, well, only natural. Yet in the same breath, it is impossible to deny that we also rely on technology and other comforts of urban life. Even during Thoreau’s foray into the wild, where he came to the transcendental conclusion that “we can never have enough of nature,” he managed to stray no further than two miles from his family home. So, what should we make of our relationship to nature? Are we all born with the call of the wild within us, or is it something we learn by escaping into the natural world?
According to the theory known as the Biophilia hypothesis, humans have a universal and inherent affinity for nature that is directly linked to our genetic composition. The Biophilia hypothesis, explored by psychoanalyst Eric Fromm in the 1970s and later popularized by biologist Edward O. Wilson in his book Biophilia (1984), maintains that we have an evolutionary desire to connect with nature and other living things. Wilson considered this desire essential to our physical and mental development. It also serves as the basis for our environmentalism. In other words, it explains both why we keep plants in our homes and why we feel the need to apologize to them when we come home after a weekend away.
So, it seems that we are all genetically predisposed to love the outdoors, and on top of that, we are all natural-born environmentalists. Which is great news, right? But, like all relationships, this one too must be nurtured. Perhaps, we do have an innate kinship with nature, but in our modern lives, it has become increasingly convenient to allow our love of nature to go unnourished. As Thoreau famously said, “a taste for the beautiful is most cultivated out of doors.” So get out there, you tree huggers.