My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

Urban nature

If I look out my bedroom window, I can see spring arriving in the pond that used to be my backyard. The snow--which is actually now semi-frozen ice--and the ice proper beneath it is melting, flooding entire portions of my backyard. The end of a little ice age.

Bits of autumnal debris slowly raise themselves up from the muck: leaves and branches, planks of wood. Hey, look, a shovel. The meltwater flows around these objects, pooling at the depressions in the yard. It flows around the garage too, and the wood and barbecue sheds. This microcosmic clash of human urbanity and nature strikes a chord in me, because it demonstrates how much humans have shaped the face of the Earth.

If I look up from the ground, straight ahead, I can see the houses behind mine, the ones across the back lane that face outward to another street. And beyond them, more houses. Two or three storeys high, that's all. I don't live in a crowded metropolis like New York, nor a sparsely-populated rural area like Kakabeka. And that makes the subtle distinctions even more refined, because I'm at that midway point, where we've built up our suburbs, but nature is still evident in the carefully manicured boulevards and precisely planted birch trees.

It's the ice, though, that gets me. The ice melts and flows around our man-made structures. I look across the yard and notice that during the winter it was entirely covered by snow and ice. Patches of brown grass are seeping through now. And I wonder, what would this look like without the buildings? Why, it would be a huge plain of ice, ice covered by snow, snow being blown about by a wind that was free of the interference of tall buildings. Such places, I hear, do exist, for I have seen them on TV.

Humans (at least those of Westernized culture) are quite backward creatures really. We gave Darwin a miss and decided that, instead of adapting ourselves to the environment, we should merely adapt the environment to ourselves. Heck, we can move mountains if they are in our way. The mere existence of the word "cityscape", (which Firefox does not mark as incorrectly spelled, even though it believes "Firefox" doesn't exist) emphasises how we've shaped the Earth.

I'm not drawing any real conclusions here, nor are these observations all that original or revolutionary. But it's good to stop and think about this stuff once and awhile. Again, as a species we've sort of removed ourselves from the environment and created this own, extremely elaborate fictitious universe that we collectively inhabit. It's only healthy to break way from that fantasy every so often and actually look at the world around us.