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The Trouble With Nature

Summary:
Nature, which we are taught to revere and which in Europe is relatively benign, can nevertheless sometimes be a bit of a nuisance. For example, when I returned to my house in the country after an absence of a few months, I found that the flies had taken up residence between one shutter and a window, and the ladybirds—thousands of them—behind another. There are few sensations more unpleasant than being swarmed by flies on opening a window, unless it be the cold, slimy, squishy sensation of slugs that have taken up their residence under logs for the wood-burning stoves, or of dead mice (one of them fairly recently deceased, to judge by its consistency) in the middle of the pile of tea towels. George Orwell once wrote of his time

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Nature, which we are taught to revere and which in Europe is relatively benign, can nevertheless sometimes be a bit of a nuisance. For example, when I returned to my house in the country after an absence of a few months, I found that the flies had taken up residence between one shutter and a window, and the ladybirds—thousands of them—behind another. There are few sensations more unpleasant than being swarmed by flies on opening a window, unless it be the cold, slimy, squishy sensation of slugs that have taken up their residence under logs for the wood-burning stoves, or of dead mice (one of them fairly recently deceased, to judge by its consistency) in the middle of the pile of tea towels. George Orwell once wrote of his time working in a secondhand bookshop that bluebottles choose the top of old books on which to breathe their last, but our mice choose tea towels and give off an odor that even joss sticks cannot disguise. Compared with this, gall wasps that construct their odorless cocoons of mud and bodily secretions in the folds of curtains are a minor inconvenience and are easily cleared.

Then the rains came. The river at the bottom of our garden burst its banks, but fortunately our house is at a sufficient elevation that even Greta Thunberg might have thought us safe for the time being from the rising waters. However, the drains along our winding and ascending drive were another thing. They had not been cleared and were full of leaves, pine cones and needles, twigs, etc., with the result that the water threatened to erode the drive. There was nothing for it but to take to the spade.

I don’t mind physical work—for about a quarter of an hour. Thereafter it bores me. I am very grateful that in my life I have had to do very little of it. Such physical exertion as I indulged in has been for the pleasure of it, and divorced utterly from any utilitarian end. I date this aversion to physical labor from my childhood, when my father, whose main interest other than business and love affairs was gardening, made me accompany him and perform tasks such as sweeping the leaves, removing stones, saving worms, etc. How I longed for a deluge, or for the sun to go down, so as to be relieved of this corvée—which, as I now realize, was hardly very onerous. But young minds have no standard of comparison, and believe their own sufferings to be the worst imaginable. It is only fair to mention that my father was an excellent gardener, who loved his plants, if not his neighbor, as himself, and had an almost mystical attachment to them. I think he may even have talked to them, as many good gardeners do.

I am as susceptible to the beauties of Nature as the next man, in some cases more so. For example, unlike many, I find individual flies to be creatures of great beauty, the more beautiful the more closely you observe them. It is in the mass that they revolt me (I will draw no cheap and false analogy with humanity). But at the same time, while I stand amazed at the metamorphosis of the maggot into the fly, as almost at a miracle, I cannot but be repelled by the maggot. In other words, my response to Nature is aesthetic, more often positive than negative but not invariably so.

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