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Many Different Ways of Appreciating Nature

By Pipit Tai

......Very few can appreciate the leeches, mosquitoes, mites, the clammy heat and ...

As I listen to the shrieks and screams of ladies skipping about desperately to escape the leeches on the muddy ground of the Negeram Trail in Sungai Relau, Taman Negara Merapoh, I find myself torn between sympathy for these ladies and the tour organizers Forest and Jungle, the former for their fear of these squeamishly terrifying things that crawl up one�s legs to a vampire�s feast and the latter for the impossible task of trying to meet such a wide range of expectations and experiences. I dislike leeches intensely myself and I admire the great sporting character of this particular group. I suspect too that the whole group realizes, sort of instinctively, that the greater discomfort falls on the shoulders of Forest and Jungle. Still, I believe there was some sort of achievement in the sense that most in the group were a little tougher � steeled and tempered, by the third day.

But this is not the reason I write. For a long time now, I have thought hard about the claims people make when they say they love nature. Unfortunately, like the slippery word that is incorporated in that claim, there are an endless number of unsaid and undefined expectations and assumptions that goes with such statements that lay people, professional foresters and even scientists make. The poetry of language and its inexactness often lends itself to the clouding up of great differences in values and world views.

Take for example, the love of nature that goes with the intense feeling of being at one with great panoramic scenes of mountain ranges, its misty tops, the shades of purple and blue that hint at great differences in distances from the viewer as well peaceful sunrises and glorious sunsets. I am sure everyone can appreciate beauty like this, but most would prefer the convenience of a cable car to reach such a vantage point. A smaller minority may look upon this as heresy and feel cheated that such great beauty in nature can be bought so cheaply and so artificially, preferring a tortuous hike instead.

Very few can appreciate the leeches, mosquitoes, mites, the clammy heat and humidity in the day and numbing cold during the night, not to mention the fear of dangerous beasts, snakes and the like. Yet these are all part and parcel of nature, not all pure and not all completely natural to be sure. There is another view of nature that needs to be considered and it is that nature is a set of slowly changing, interspersed by cataclysmic yet, finely balanced equilibriums. These equilibriums have evolved over billions of years and for human kind, starting arguably with the birth of the earth itself and passing through the destruction of the dinosaurs. We have hardly began to understand even the most basic of these equilibriums, yet in our headlong rush towards development we have transfigured it and in my view, impoverished most of these equilibriums, and in many cases even making them unsustainable, that is, destroying them.

We say we love nature, yet we change it almost beyond recognition. We say we love nature, yet we hack out artificial steps in the ground to facilitate our journey to our favourite secluded, undisturbed and peaceful spots of natural beauty where we build brick kitchens, dam streams for water, bring our pots and pans and make tea and coffee to feed ourselves during our bouts of great philosophical contemplation accompanied by disco music over the radio. We say we love the fresh air, peace and quiet of nature, yet some people bring along their musical instruments, amplifiers and loudspeakers and to what purpose? Impress nature with our musical talents or torturing fellow campers with unbelievably lousy music, nauseatingly bad taste and complete disrespect for everyone? We say we love nature, yet we disfigure it with our over-weaning egos and willfulness. We say we love nature, yet we pack our meals with Styrofoam and when Styrofoam is ruled out, we cannot escape the ubiquitous plastic bags for keeping the more liquid foods in place. These are the same people who implement a very human and very bureaucratic rule about spreading every climber�s luggage on the ground counting the number of plastic bags that each climber carries in to Gunong Tahan AND on the way out. Are we really such a sorry species that consumes and defiles the mother that gave birth to us and sustains us still, and whom we claim we love so much? Are we such sorry people that we cannot trust our own team to do the right thing and subject them to checks by bureaucrats who do not do the right thing themselves playing out a power game that insults and demeans those who do not hold the power?

ranger counting plastic bags
Ranger counting plastics that mountaineers will be taking up G. Tahan. They have to return the same number of plastics or they will be fine RM50 per plastic lost.

It appears that we as a special species of thinking animal are not really that special after all. We do not seem to be able to manage our inheritance and our gifts at all well. We even feed upon ourselves, endowing with power those undeserving bureaucrats that insult and demean us, who commit the very infractions they are supposed to keep under control. We are the most powerful and destructive species on earth yet we meekly abide by the authority of self-interested and uncaring bureaucrats and automatons performing incredibly silly, time-wasting, effort expending, money dissolving rites. Are we preparing the way for another cataclysmic equilibrium to take place where we are no longer in the equation and lowly beings such as cockroaches prove more lasting and more deserving than us? If this be so, then it fulfills the prophecy of great prophets who claim that the meek shall rule the world � only they will not be human.

Merapoh June 2006

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