Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Simulacrum of Nature

We ate breakfast al fresco. Then we took to our bikes and rode over warm asphalt, under a bright sun, up a long rising hill. We navigated side streets and a dark, dank, urine soaked tunnel to emerge into a neighbourhood of wealth and leisure. We found a hidden trail and slipped beneath a canopy of trees down into the cool pocket of river valley air. Amongst some touristic ruins we abandoned two wheels to amble in chlorophyll green light. As the sun rose higher, we felt its heat press down upon us. We had striven to save ourselves from the sun’s power. We used creams to block the sun from our skin. We donned sunlight blocking glasses to protect our eyes and hats to shield our heads. Yet as the day wore on, the day wore us down. We sought nature and now we felt nature’s rebuke.

We retreated from our forest bath wearied and hot, sweaty and tired. Apparently we need nature more than it needs us. Our withdrawal from the out of doors meant that we found comfort from within doors. In a bright, sunny room, air conditioning breathed coastal breezes while we streamed a playlist of song birds. Our simulacrum of nature complete, we could finally lay our heads and dream our dreams.

With decadently hot days and deliciously cool nights, June in Southern Ontario can be a gift. June can give all the heat of summer but with cooler nights and fewer bugs. In such fine weather it seems like we should be creatures of the forest or the plains but instead we’ve become animals that inhabit dwellings like termites or ants that spend most of their time in mounds of their own design. With heating and cooling systems, window coverings that can be drawn or opened, we control how much of the outside we want inside. Are we like greenhouse tomatoes? We carefully monitor our UV exposure, we vent our homes to avoid CO2 buildup, we control the light and the darkness, we bring water inside from outside and we send our waste back out. We’re such inhabitants of dwellings that we consider those without shelter disenfranchised and try to help them. It makes you wonder how we evolved such frail bodies that without shelter we’d possibly perish.

Years ago I started running and biking with the aim of getting outside more. I spent so much of my time docked at a desk that it felt like I was more mushroom than human. I eventually started swimming at Toronto’s outdoor pools whenever I could as another way to be outside. Yet now, beset by allergies and skin so sensitive to heat that I break out in hives that surely would have turned Job to the dark side, I have to avoid the heat the sun provides. Sometimes when my skin erupts I imagine the sunlight as millions of needles penetrating me like the cosmic neutrinos that rip through us every second of every day. That’s when I need my naturae simulation. It’s not so much my nature retreat as much as my retreat from nature. Maybe one day I will be able to lie down in tall grass under a beaming sun but for now I’ll bath in a/c and listen to recorded birds singing at 160 kbit/s.

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