The Unnatural Nature of the Modern World (2)

More than just getting acclimated to the climate, I realized today that the traditional lifestyle and religious belief of the Tohono O’odham is very uncomfortable in practice for someone brought up in modern society. According to Mr. Angelo Joaquin of the Tohono O’odham tribe, “We don’t survive [the desert]; we live with it,” saying that living in the desert is not something they just cope with but is integral to their very way of life. As popular it is nowadays to go “reconvene with nature” by going on hikes and sitting outside, this activities really do not compare to actually delving into an ecosystem.

Today, at the Desert Museum outside of Tucson, we had to opportunity to explore the desert and its natural inhabitants in a somewhat controlled setting. I really enjoyed strolling along the Desert Pathway and through the Cacti Garden. Who doesn’t love looking at pretty, and sometimes funny looking, plants? However, the second that a coyote started trotting over to me I immediately felt terrified and quickly walked away, despite knowing that they were kept within a netted cage. While I like to think as someone who enjoys nature, the reality is that when confronted with nature in its wildness and as it really is, I immediately have the instinct to flee. The nature I like is the carefully constructed nature of the Colonnade on W&L’s campus or a white water rafting trip down the Nantahala in North Carolina. These dalliances with nature, however, do not reflect nature as it really is or as the Tohono O’odham approach it.

Wooly Jacket Prickly Pear Cacti at the Desert Museum outside of Tucson

Mr. Joaquin mentioned that coming home to Arizona evokes a “sense of place” and that he enjoys “being in a land that is the same color as me.” However, identifying and truly loving a land means celebrating all that it offers you, which relates to the Tohono O’odham notion of kinship between all plants, animals, places, and people. Objectively, I do not practice this type of belief at all. I even was wary of the lizards that kept running across the pathways. While I may be jumpier than some people, the majority of most city dwellers interactions with nature comes from killing bugs and visiting zoos. Ruthlessly killing stink bugs in my freshman dorm by sucking them up with a hand vacuum does not exemplify the all-encompassing kinship of the Tohono O’odham, nor does looking at animals through a thick pane of glass. As I continue to get more familiar with the flora and fauna of southern Arizona, I hopefully will become more comfortable and relaxed while exploring the landscape. If I am successful at accepting and enjoying nature in its true, wild form here, I would then be able to more fully enjoy the Virginia environment and become more acquainted with its other native inhabitants.

The singular cloud visible from the Desert Museum


4 Replies to “The Unnatural Nature of the Modern World (2)”

  1. Kathryn,
    This post reminded me of what I was thinking about during one of our van rides, as I was trying to imagine what it would be like to be dropped into the desert today without the roads. I personally would not be equipped today to handle that and would likely die, as I was not conditioned growing up to be able to live that type of life. The fact that the Hohokam people were not only able to survive, but thrive out here for hundreds of years before contemporary technology is hard for me to picture. Our lives are fundamentally different in so many ways from theirs, which manifests itself partially in the way we interact with nature. We purposely insolate ourselves away from nature in many cases, and as you write, we carefully control the interactions we do have. I do not think there is a solution to this, as it is, like it or not, a fact of our contemporary daily existence as people who come from the backgrounds that we do.

  2. Good point about nature and W&L. Despite having a ton of great hikes within driving distance and a beautiful campus, its easy to get to absorbed in the action of school and forget about all the natural beauty around us. Sometimes all it takes is a nice walk around campus to remember how gifted by nature Rockbridge County is.

  3. Kathryn, it’s funny that you should mention ruthlessly killing stinkbugs. After a few days in the class during the first week of the term talking about reciprocity and connection, I found myself questioning my actions when I went to, truly ruthlessly, kill one of the many stinkbugs I find in my home. I even sent Harvey an email about it! Is there any way to kill them with respect? Should we feel remorse for those sad little creatures? I wasn’t sure then and still am not sure now. I do think, however, that practicing reciprocity in life and within nature can lead us to more peace of mind within the modern world. It is without connection to nature and place that I think many of us get lost in this vast, ever-evolving technological world. That is why I have always deeply respected Native American spirituality and integrated community and place-centered connectedness. There is something to their spirituality and learning about their way of life that I think many of us can benefit from in such a disjointed modern world.

  4. Its amazing how in tune with nature the Tohono O’odham are. Their ability to take the barren landscape and turn it into a sustainable lifestyle shows their dedication to the land. The reciprocity they have with the land is nothing like ours. Being on their land, I felt as if I was more conscious of my actions towards it out of respect of their culture. It made me realize how often I “disrespect” the land. It is easy to pick flowers out of the ground and kill pesky bugs, but maybe their style of life is better. Maybe adaption of their respect of the land would help to save the planet and climate change.

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