Erasing Nature

At a recent public hearing in Eugene, Oregon, a developer defended his proposal to build over a hundred houses on a steep slope with a history of landslides even though he knew little about this aspect of the site. He asserted he did not need to know. He would just alter the land to fit his needs as he went along. He opined, for instance, that he could engineer a network of retaining walls to keep the houses he built from sliding off the hill.

To this developer it did not matter how little he knew about the land he sought to develop—since he saw it as a blank slate on which he could carry out whatever designs he had for it. To him the slope of the hill, its slippery clay soil, its earthquake history, were all things he could erase as he went along– as easily as he could bulldoze the Douglas fir forest on this site to get it out of the way.

In practicing his “blank slate” development that rendered irrelevant the natural characteristics and natural life of the land, our developer was only following historical precedent. On certain beaches in southwestern Washington and northwestern Oregon, levies must hold back the sea, since the high priced homes perched on the beach front are prone to falling in at high tide. In southern California areas recently ravaged by fire, houses were built on hills next to the updrafts of chaparrals that maintained their ecology through burning.

We have built our major cities on flood plains in the Pacific Northwest, necessitating huge dams upriver. Native people had a different tact: they too knew that living by the river on fertile river bottom land was a great thing—in season. In high water times you would find them in their permanent villages, on the hills, above the flood line.

But we civilized folks weren’t into moving to respond to nature as if it were a living thing. Whites would rather chew through a mountain than go around, Chehalis elder Henry Cultee remarked in 1975. His son Richard Cultee told me there was a joke among the Skokomish people: “We knew whites had arrived when we woke up one morning and the river was moved.”

In the historical development of the Pacific Northwest, indigenous life—human and otherwise—was treated as if it were only so much chalk dust whose writing didn’t have to be read before it was erased. Some Northwestern pioneers recorded such views for posterity with embarrassing irony. As he relied on Indian labor to help him survive, one pioneer and his family in the Willamette Valley camped under a tree. From his meager shelter, this pioneer decried the savage abodes of his Indian neighbors (they lived in planed wood houses sixty feet in diameter), and asserted that they were soon to be wiped off the land anyway– to be replaced with such civilized fixtures as a tavern.

Perhaps he was imbibing already, but Father Blanchet, missionary in southwestern Washington when Portland was just a “mud hole”, likely wasn’t. Blanchet’s journals related his glowing vision of the bustling commerce that would replace the “lonely huts of the Indians”. He neglected to mention that one of those “huts”, near the present day Rochester, Washington, was over 200 feet in length: horses were raced inside in the winter games.

In Blanchet’s “lonely huts of the Indians”, I am most taken with word, “lonely.” I cannot imagine a more lonely existence than that of the man who finds the world empty of everything but his vision for remaking it.

This loneliness is more wrenching even than the loneliness for the life of a world to share our lives. It is loneliness for a lost part of ourselves.

We have inherited this notion along with the idea of the developing the land from scratch: the notion that we can and should reshape ourselves into socially acceptable forms. Naomi Wolf likens this to being trapped inside the Iron Maiden, an instrument of medieval torture in which the victim was locked inside a misshapen metal body.

One who sees nature as capable of being remade without constraint will see our own bodies (especially women’s bodies) in a similar lens, as illustrated by the harrowing “reality” TV show, “extreme makeover”, in which individuals are physically “made over” with the ample application of plastic surgery. Those who consent to be treated as if their own bodies were blank slates to be carved up, reshaped and thus “improved” are the human version of the nature we also attempt to erase and remake.

We are nature as surely as is the land we remake–no matter whether we see this for good or ill. But if our current environmental crises teach us anything it is that when we attempt erase nature what we really succeed at is erasing ourselves. It is a bald fact that if we destroy the sources of our sustenance, we are going out with them.

I am not saying that we should never change the natural world: we change it with every breath we take. But change is not the same thing as disturbance–and certainly not the same thing as obliteration. We might choose to partner with the life we find on the land, to design our human actions so that, as innovative architect William McDonough has put it, the creatures of nature recognize us as family when they look upon the things we do.

We might give up our impulse to treat our world as if it were only the vision of our own desires– and the terrible loneliness that flows from this.

Another kind of development is possible, one that avoids the blackmail line that we cannot have jobs and a clean environment: great research here on the real effects of development subsidies and alternatives that support working families.

You are welcome to link to this post.  Note, however, it is copyright 2008, Madronna Holden. Feel free to email me if you wish to use or copy it.

467 Responses

  1. Nice way of describing disturbing natural balance of the earth.
    Many people are aware of San Diego’s just-right weather, but perhaps not for too long. Global warming notwithstanding, both sides of I-5 and I-15 are being flattened to build houses and shopping and business centers.

    San Diego’s rolling hills are fast disappearing. Moreover, increasingly even the few gorges and small valleys are filled with condominiums. Along the way, whatever plant and animal life resided there are gone. These buildup will certainly affect the natural wind corridors moving over hills and through the valleys. In the long run, the city’s and the county’s fine weather will not be the same.

  2. Thanks for comparing the landscape described in Oregon with your experience in California. Obviously, we cannot continue to draw from our environment without giving back and assume that it will continue to provide those resources we need to sustain our lives.

  3. In reading the essay, it struck me that humans must have an innate desire to control things that surround them. Perhaps they are very insecure?

    A few years ago, I had the opportunity to travel with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on the Colorado River. The trip took three days to travel to Hoover Dam. It was at the end of the first day, when it struck me, that the River was really no longer a river. It was a pipe. An open pipe but none the less the water contained therein was completely controlled and measured. Water in, water out.

    The entire Colorado River functions as a controlled water system. It had been deprived of its natural ebb and flow and its natural ability to flood surrounding areas to recharge the aquifer, provide nutrient filled soils for agricultural purposes and habitat for multitudes of animals and plants.

    Today, a moderate to severe drought exists in the Southwest. Many wish the flows could be returned to their natural ways. Many wish the ag lands that still remain could be fed by good water instead of salt heavy water which limits crop type and growth.

    We are paying now for our failures to live in harmony with the land. Our need to control may eventually doom us.

    The Oregon home developer story, the story of the Colorado River and hundreds of similar stories play out every year. I truly hope that we are learning from our failures.

  4. Thanks for sharing this comment– I concur that the definition of wisdom is the ability to learn from our mistakes. But it seems western civilization is not particularly good at this–and as you note, this may eventually doom us.
    You might be interested in this essay here: it turns out that irrigation in areas of the ancient Middle East had the same problems with salination you mention. https://holdenma.wordpress.com/2008/10/23/gilgamesh-and-other-pioneers-in-paradise/
    I hope with you that we are learning from our mistakes, since if we truly erase nature and place our own will/control entirely in its place, we will do away with the means for our own survival.

  5. Great connections Madronna! Erasing our very nature is impossible and dangerous. Many developers attempt to do this with land. However, nature acts right back at them. Landslides, erosion, floods.. etc. When we reconstruct the land and other forms of nature (even the female body) we are denying ourselves as part of nature. There is no such thing as creating a “blank slate”. Nature carries a deeply rooted history, many memories. These histories are imprinted on the land, in the water, and in the air. If you attempt to erase them, most likely they will come back, or not even leave in the first place (air and water pollution). Indeed nature is alive! We must except this, embrace it, love and honor it!
    I also liked the connection you made with the female body. The media has engrained in women’s heads that what is natural with our bodies is ugly. All the shaving, waxing, and reconstructing isn’t improving if your body denies the changes in the first place.

  6. A powerful amplification of the idea that we can only erase nature at our own hazard. Thank you, Ivy.

  7. I found all of this very interesting. Man belive that they can do whatever they want to our earth without thinking of the concequence it could cause down the road. Now with times being so unpredictable people only see dollar signs and how can i make an extra dollar they dont care what they have to do to it , as long as they do. I really like the comparrison of the human body, expecially the womans body it is so true with everything that there is out there today people belive that they can just start over and Change what we have to make it work for us. instead of embracing on what we have. We always want more and somthing different It defentily makes you think on how more and more people are taking the little land we have left to build on it.

  8. I really enjoyed this article it really makes you think about what we as humans are doing to our earth everyday. I think it is amazing how somone with knowing what they know about a piece of land could just say they will alter it to make it work for them. Its sad with the economy today i feel that people will do anything for a dollar. They dont care at what cost it takes. I really liked the comparisson with the human body expecially a womans body. So many woman today know and want to alter the way they look. but should they? I think you should embrace what you have :)

    • Thoughtful personal response, Meagan. Can you see any implications for adapting to nature rather than trying to remake it for our use? How does objectifying nature or seeing it only as something for our use contrast with any other environmental values (and their results) you are aware of?

  9. Interesting article. It echoes many things that I have been saying for some time now. When talking about developers building where ever they want without regard to the environment brings one example to mind: New Orleans, LA. Not to downplay the effect on the people that lived there during hurricane Katrina, but wasn’t that due to happen someday? The city is built nearly entirely below sea level, and it is built next to the sea!! This disregard for nature is obviously not a new thing, but something that is completely ingrained into our culture as we know it.
    Another point mentioned in the article was that we try to change the environment like some people try to change their bodies with plastic surgery. This is a reflection of our “Now” society and way of living. No one seems willing to work hard for anything, including a slimmer waist. People almost seem to feel that they deserve everything, but shouldn’t have to work for it. I wish that we could get back to a simpler life, where people grew their own food and traded services between each other. Being in touch with the land around you is something that is lacking in a lot of people’s life expiriences, and that is reflected in how they treat the world around them. I grew up in the country, in the woods, and respecting the land around me. This is clearly reflected in my world views.
    As a society, we are forced to view the world as “Ripe for the Picking”. It is the “American Way”. We, as a society, objectify nature to justify the way we treat it when we steal all that we can from it. If we saw the environment as our equal, we would feel bad about ourselves when we do what we do to it. A similar situation arises when we eat our foods. When you bite into a juicy steak, you don’t think about the cattle that had to be killed to provide it to you. By distancing ourselves from the natural world, we make ourselves callous to our effect upon it.

    • Hi Andrew, thanks for your thoughtful comment. A very important point about the license for mistreating others (of all species) in distancing ourselves from them. Once we look at anything (or anyone) as “raw material”, a “resource”, or simply a means to our ends, we lose all ethical perspective.
      The point about the focus on convenience is also well taken: though it is also true that a slimmer waist is not something everyone can work for. Perhaps you are aware that the newest data is actually linking some forms of obesity to exposure to environmental pollutants such as endocrine disruptors. There is also the link between economic well being and nutrition: “fast” food or junk food provides calories for fewer dollars– but scant amounts of necessary nutrition.

  10. When I read your article, the first thought that came to my mind, was what was this builder thinking, all he was after was the money he could make selling these houses. He had a total disregard to the consequences of his actions. However, what it really comes down to is we have lost our respect or our concern for others and our environment. We have developed into an “it’s all about me” society. That builder did not care about what would happening to those houses he built in 10 years when the foundations began to crack and lose their integrety. He only cared about what he would be gaining in the immediate future. By the time the houses started showing the stress caused by the abuse of the environment, he would have had received his money and been long gone. Will we ever learn or will we just continue in this downward spiral?

    • Hi Pam, thanks for your comment. It is true that the “now” and “me” attitudes leave those who follow us in jeopardy. This is the reason why the “precautionary principle”m, which focuses on the ways in which we should protect those who come after us from harm, is growing in popularity.

  11. The developer’s attitude is all too common in today’s society. Quite often we should ask ourselves just because we can, does that mean we should? I remember reading about the nuclear arms race in the cold war and the emergence of nuclear weapons in the 1950s. The Soviets were making plans to use nuclear bombs in various dam building and civil engineering projects just to display their ingenuity and resourcefulness. Clearly not good idea on any level but yes they had the ability to do this.

    Working with our environment causes so many less headaches. This developer might make a few dollars in his project but I would say that the legal liability of building in such a manner would be an issue, let alone the moral liability if something did happen to the homes that were built on such an unsafe site.

    • Thoughtful response, Joe. The problem is that in our legal system, the developer’s responsibility pretty much ends after he sells his houses. I am all for the proposals that developers must insure the consequences of their work for say, twenty years. For that matter, how about all those clear cuts that are currently causing landslides all over Washington State in tandem with the recent floods? Who is responsible for that after the loggers leave? I think that this is an obvious major flaw in our economic system which rewards people for short term gains–and does not levy any responsibility for long term consequences. In that sense, we as a society, are actually rewarding some for creatiing situations none of us want.

  12. My first impression about the developer is he is very arrogant. I think he is being driven my dollar signs, there for he doesn’t care about anything else. He doesn’t see the big picture of how his actions are affecting nature, the future and other people. This man will just move on with his life after he takes another piece away from nature. It is not right to force nature to conform to our lives. Instead, people should probably be conforming to nature as Indian tribes once did. Whenever we do something we need to keep in mind that there are consequences for our actions. We can’t assume that we know what is best for other people. All things should work together for the good of all.

    • Thank you for your caring response, Laura. I agree that (since we live in an interdependent world) we should adapt ourselves to the natural world–and seek our courses of action in which, as you say, we “work together for the good of all”.

  13. I absolutely agree with your ideas here. This developer is the objectification worldview poster child. His sense of entitlement over the natural world for his own benefit is incredibly brazen. There is no regard whatsoever for the land he will destroy, or the potential homeowners that he places at eminent risk by housing them there.
    Peoples attempts and failures to control their environment is seen more and more with the extreme weather patterns and storms showing up all over the world. Living in Astoria, I can not help but think of the town of Warrenton that is built almost entirely below sea level. Even a relatively minor tsunami will destroy this area. I found it very interesting that natives would stay on the river in season and then go to more permanent settlements at higher ground when flood season came. What a novel idea, adjusting to what your environment gives you instead of forcefully changing it to suit our needs.

    • Hi Aaron, thanks for your comment. You are right in line with the newest essay just posted on this site: the worldview that values working in careful concert with the natural world rather than remaking it (or even disturbing it) because it is more convenient for us.

  14. Let me play devils advocate for a moment.

    Imgaine that you are this builder. You are an ordianary man with a family. You have the ability to aquire what appears to be unused land to make a large profit. You feel that you know how to make the land stable so that it now becomes useful land and does not endager those that live on it. Besides the profit that you and the 50 other familes that will work on the project will make – you can give over 100 familes a nice place to live.

    As the builder, lets say in 2 years you will make a million dollars. Would you do it?
    How about 2 million dollars? As the builder when you look around yourself, you see all the other builders doing it – so what impact will you 100 homes have… Really? And besides, if you don’t – someone else will, and many of us would buy those homes unaware of the impact we’ve had. How about 3 million dollars? I’m not asking if you would sink a tanker full of oil, just to build a few homes for people to live in.

    The sad problem is that we all have a price. We seem so insignificant in this large world that it is difficult for us to look past the financial gain. People are so busy in their daily lives that they don’t look at the bigger picture.

    Kudos to those that brought the legal action. Bringing these types of issues to light is what helps us all become aware, probably even the builder. Maybe after we get passed a few generations that were taught of the earth as a blank slate – the natural behavior of the earth will be the what builders see when they look at a potentional site.

    • You bring up some points to consider, Angie. I might add a bit of info here: the city of Eugene actually offered to pay him a price for the land that would bring him a huge profit, since they wanted to develop it as a park. However, he raised the ante, asking a price they could not afford (which would have given him several hundred thousand dollars’ profit just for buying the land and holding it for a year. Also, a “nice place to live” may not be one on which one’s house may slide down the hill. You ask a question which leads to the ways in which our thought process in modern industrial society too often encourages greed in a way that blinds us to the real consequences of our actions. And our system all too often rewards those who create situations most of us do not want (need I bring up the Wall Street bailout?)
      Your thoughtful post indicates the way in which we need to change our cultural values: for there ARE societies which do not reward and encourage greed. Thanks for the perspective: it is always beneficial to see the world from someone else’s perspective. Especially if we are concerned about changing the results that flow from that perspective–and that perspective is tied into a social system in which many of us (including myself) too often unthinkingly participate.

  15. This is something I have thought a lot about and when you mention southern California, I can’t help but think about the coastline where I grew up. Specifically, I am talking about the development of these areas, and the ramifications of doing so. In it’s desire for revenue, the city of Dana Point built a jetty and harbor in an area that was renowned for its beauty and legendary surf break. This all began in the late 60s, and in the preceding years the beach there, Doheny, is now known to the locals as “poop beach.” It is consistently among the worst beaches in the state in terms of water quality. To me, this is one of the worst examples of developers seeing nature as some kind of blank canvas where they can create their twisted homages to capitalism. It’s sickening. It also ruined the surfing!

    I also wanted to mention that I was intriqued with the correlation between nature and women, especially in the context of “Extreme Makeover.” I have seen that show, but never thought of it in that light. I am sad to admit that, as a male, I am part of a male-dominated society whose nature it is to subjugate and shape the world to its liking. This is the reason that people like me (those open to enlightenment) need to be more active and dilligent in fighting for the rights of all of nature.

    • Hi Michael, thanks for your thoughtful comment, and for your personal commitment to being “active and diligent” in protecting the rights of nature. As a woman, I certainly appreciate your consciousness. You might enjoy viewing the page on the “rights of nature” on this site.
      Obviously we can add the example of this beach to those who development includes condos that regularly slide into the surf. During the recent floods in Washington State, we can also add numerous landslides directly attributable to clear cuts.

  16. The main theme that I got from this short essay, is the importance of understanding natures limits. I think as a species, we have accumulated a habit of always assuming that we can make mountains out of molehills. We also generally like to think that we have the ability to get around any sort of obstical standing in our way of something that we want. This is a bad notion to walk around with. We must realize that there are certain aspects of nature that are bigger than us, and we cannot always get around certain things that mother nature has the most power over.

    • Thoughtful reply, Megan, thank you. I like Paul Hawkins’ approach– he states that human resources (such as labor, imagination, etc.) are wide open–and we need to use more of these instead of using up nature’s limiting resources.

  17. I really can’t agree with the developer concerning building on a hill and eradicating all concerns of landslide, however, I can understand where he/she is coming from.

    When I was in my transportation engineering class, we had to design a road from the kings and walnut intersection going north to a more hilly community, the name escapes me now. In getting to my point, we had to design the road going with the river leading up to the community, not because it was something we wanted but it was the cheapest way to get up there without harming the environment too much. Now, I’m not saying that what we were doing was right in terms of environment or sustainable development, but we were working for the community that wanted a more direct route down to Corvallis.

    So, in terms of then and now, I believe development has improved in terms of being more environmentally and more ethically sound, however, the need for development seems to be the overriding idea. Meaning, if we can build it, and it makes our lives “easier”, then we will. Maybe it’s the idea of accepting things as they are and adapting ourselves to the economic, social, and physical environment rather than changing them to fit our needs that we need to embrace.

    • Hi Tony, I responded to two of your comments at once in my response to your comment on the NIMBY lie. Thanks for your comments!
      A key point about adapting ourselves– takes interaction and listening that cannot help but give us more ideas and options.

  18. The developers attitude is unfortunately a reflection of our whole society. The barrier islands of the east coast are subjected to numerous forces of nature which attempt to continually move and reshape them, but now these islands have become tourist destinations populated by expensive homes and resorts. Many beaches lose sand due to storms which threaten this now valuable real estate. Local governments , with help from the state and federal levels, spend millions of taxpayer dollars for beach replenishment projects which in the end provide only temporary solutions. People buy property in risky locations because they know that the insurance companies or the government are usually there to bail them out, which relieves them of their own responsibilities.
    The native cultures had a respect for nature that we do not have. The examples of reports by pioneers that minimized the accomplishments of the native peoples only made it easier to dismiss and destroy them.

    • Hi John, thanks for sharing your a cultural perspective here; obviously we are suffering the results of minimizing any type of environmental knowledge (including that which comes from our own senses). About time we started to learn from our past, I think.

  19. I have lived in the Applegate Valley of Southern Oregon for the past nine years, and have seen what building in flood plains can do. It is interesting how much disregard for mother nature exists until she demonstrates her “destructive” power. The 1997 flooding in Southern Oregon, specifically in the valley, damaged multiple homes which were built in the surrounding low-lying plains. We were saved because my parents, respecting the natural terrain and thinking preemptively, chose a clearing elevated 150 feet above the flood line. This simple prevention kept our house from being damaged or destroyed in the flooding. My parents have advocated respecting nature for as long as I can remember, which many people, as is demonstrated in this article, do not do. I think awareness is the most important thing we need to have in order to survive as a species, and not wanting to have that is just a giant step in the wrong direction.

  20. I thought it was very interesting that you compared what humans to do the land to what we do to our bodies as in the tv show “extreme makeover.” We are taking what nature hs given us and reshaping it completely. People don’t realize that we can not keep doing what we are doing to our land with out consequences. Yes our land may be in okay condition now but what about for a our children or our children’s children? We think we can fix everything to our liking but in reality nature will always find a way to do as it had planned and there is nothing we can do to stop it.

    • Thank you for your comment, Danielle. For myself, I am not sure that our land is in “ok” shape, given the evidence of climate change and topsoil loss and drought around the globe. Though in the US today we may feel personally insulated from some of those changes so far. Certainly for the sake of our children’s children, as you note, we need to act.

  21. Oh my gosh this is so eye opening. I love the comparisons that are in this article. Extreme Makeover is absolutely genius. When people finally realize that they are hurting not only the earth but themselves it will maybe finally come to the attention of the public. It is just ridiculous how disrespectful the human race is to the environment. I mean everything comes from nature and not only do we use everything in nature nature gives us so much. Including all the essential things we need to survive along with all the accommodations we have and use on a daily basis.

    • Thanks for your comment, Chelsea. I would like to see us honoring our bodies for the incredible things they do for us in giving us life itself–and for their uniqueness and power– rather than trying to remake them.

  22. Dr. Holden,
    I admit that I am guilty of thinking like the developer in Eugene at one point in my life. The very first house I bought was in a flood plain in east Portland. The house was a good deal and we thought, realistically would there be a flood here? We didn’t stay long enough to find out but my point is I was more concerned with market values than what impact the home I was living in was having on the environment. We had to purchase flood insurance in the event that it does flood so that we could rebuild and damages. It seems so silly now to build a home where nature will inevitably wash it away just to rebuild it so the process can happen all over again.

    I think much differently now, and this class has really helped to harness the realization of the damage that we cause to our own world. I do sincerely hope that we stop treating the “world as if it were only the vision of our own desires” (Holden) and we can see the earth for it true beauty just the way it is rather than a commodity or as a slate we can clear to design our own ideas of nature.

    • Thank you for sharing your personal experience here, Jessie. There are likely very few folks who grew up in a Western industrialized culture who have not had some re-thinking to do in terms of their values in the wake of the current environmental crises. You are modeling the open-mindedness and critical thinking that we need!

  23. Individuals often face difficulties when distinguishing between causes and effects of i.e. daily decisions. In this case, the natural world does not make any difference. The media permanently confronts us with new natural disasters that take place around the globe causing the death of many people and the loss of their property. The causes of these disasters are not sufficiently covered by the media, because viewer do not seem to be interested in these causes. Surely, many disasters are not under the control of humans and therefore, they cannot be prevented and humans do not have to blame themselves for those tragedies. Nonetheless, there are instances where there is nothing and nobody else to be blamed than humans. Sometimes we are not only disturbing nature, but destructing willingly by creating embankment dams, canals, changing the direction of rivers, banking up or scooping earth etc. The benefit of those activities is soften only a financial one.

    • Thanks for your comment, Nick. As you indicate, sometimes the causes of “natural” disasters are humans — but this is something we don’t see in the short term. Instead, these result from complex interactions over the long term. One of the reasons, I think, why the precautionary principle is so important. It is so much easier to prevent a problem before it happens than to undo it afterwards.

  24. How ironic are our views of nature and beauty, that we spend so much energy on “fixing” them. When did we stop learning about life from observing nature, and getting to know those around us? Now, instead of learning, we spend all of our energy trying to fix everything to be an impossible vision of how we think it should be.

    The views that the builder in the above article was defending probably should be shocking, but really, they are not. It is common to hear how we can “fix” the imperfections of the land to accommodate our own needs. Today, somehow, we do not even stop to think that maybe the earth does not have imperfections, that it is made a certain way and these hills and cliffs and natural wonders, are not just obstacles. Perhaps we should focus more on the shape of the earth, the miracles that have existed and evolved long before we ever on this earth. We should be respecting these wonders, and not destroying them to build houses for ourselves, completely unnecessarily.

    • Hi Erin, thanks for your comment. Great point indicating how it is impossible to learn from nature and try to “fix” it at the same time. Interesting point about what we see as the earth’s “imperfections”– which are really things that are somehow inconvenient to ourselves. I agree about the miracles we should be attending to instead–we might take the wondrous gift of life itself, for instance. I am also amazed at how all the parts of the natural world fit with one another.

  25. In reading this article, it reminded me of the recent devastation of New Orleans. Here is a city where, in all logic, should have never been built. It lies below sea level with only the levies built by arrogant humans to try and keep the water out. What happened with Hurricane Katrina, as unfortunate as it was, was also a foreseeable outcome.

    The mention of the abuse of plastic surgery made me think of the Dangers of Pricing the Priceless article that said “All human bodies now consist of a certain percentage of plastic” caused by the overabundance of plastics and its pollution of our environment. Yet here are people who choose to modify themselves by implanting plastics like you would a choose accessories for a car. I’ve even seen the pictures of a woman who made herself into a cat! Humans are constantly trying to out maneuver, engineer and defy nature instead of working with it. The sooner we wise up and realize that nature cannot be contained and its design works better than any that we can come up with; the better off we will be.

    • Thanks for your response here, Allyson. I certainly concur that we need to start working with nature rather than attempting to re-design. It certainly takes a bit of arrogance to think we can outdo nature in this way.

  26. When I read through this article, I couldn’t help but think about our beautiful Northwest landscape and how it can so easily be wiped out by our development. We are so fortunate to have gorgeous rivers, luscious greenery, and terrific hills and mountains gracing our state. Long ago, a much larger percentage of our country had similar beauties, but they have been wiped away by the settlement of the white man.
    The developer at the beginning of this article certainly had no care for the well-being of the earth he was going to build upon. It was a place of danger to humans but also a place where organisms reside. Changing the makeup of this land will have an affect much larger than in the mind of this ignorant developer looking to make a profit by building some homes. I do understand the need for expansion in some areas, but I also realize the need for it to be smart expansion that preserves the great quality of our earth.

    • You are right about the residence of non-human life here, Allie. There are also endangered species on that land. I say “are” because the neighbors in the neighborhood association spent several thousand dollars out of their own pockets to challenge the development before the Eugene Planning Commission. After a long battle, the city of Eugene condemned the land (so that it could not be developed) and the developer sold it to the city (still for quite a profit). So this particular story has a happy ending.

  27. This is a powerful message, Professor. The builder you speak of does not surprise me. We only need to watch the evening news to see that we build in places we shouldn’t. There is no doubt we erase nature. But this is not a new concept. These types of activities have been happening since the beginning of homo sapien sapien. It’s an ironic name when we think of the destruction we’ve caused since just being homo sapien.

    Indigenous peoples from all over the world, however, have used resources at a great extent and not over used them. So, what has happened? When did we become parasites? I think when we disconnected ourselves from belonging to nature we disconnected our responsibilities. And in so doing, we disconnected our spiritual ties as expressed from Bartholomew 1 to the citizenship view of Christianity.

    About the discussion on the “lonely huts of Indians,” it probes me to think about the dominance worldview. When we conquer and dominate we regress to learn from the conquered.

    I appreciate your facts given here about our resources. We are directly linked to what we ingest–even if it is plastic as discussed elsewhere. And, I agree that when we erase nature-we erase ourselves. But, I am also reminded that when we try to harness nature; control it; conquer it–we fail either in the short or long term. That, however, may be a dangerous way of protecting ourselves on the trapeze with concrete.

    • Powerful image here about flying on a trapeze with concrete for our safety net, Tina! This comment brings up what I like to call the “dominator paradox”. The dominator hopes to control, manage, overtake nature (and others of all species), but in the end winds up more powerless than those with partnership views. Partly because in an interdependent world the consequences of our actions come back to us (or sadly, to our children or grandchildren). But also because knowledge is power and the dominator stance refuses to look fully at the world (to learn from those they “conquer”, for instance, as you point out).
      Ultimately, as well, the dominator stance is wracked by wrenching loneliness– for we can only control those who actually do not exist for us in their own right. In attempting to control our world, that is,we behave as if we are the only ones in it.

  28. This article brings up a lot of great points: “if we destroy the sources of our sustenance, we are going out with them.” I agree that if we continue to destroy our natural landscape to make room for skyscrapers and power plants, we will all suffer eventually. At first, the beautiful landscape will disappear. 500 year old trees that house many rare species of birds and other life will be replaced with needy consumers that desire bigger homes, and bigger cars. So where do we draw the line? Do we keep letting individuals manipulate local politics and develop their investment properties while the natural beauty of our earth suffers? Or will we finally draw the line when we realize the only natural beauty left are the scattered national parks. By then it will be too late.

    • Thank you for your sharing your personal concern, Jason. I think we obviously need to consider some long term consequences in making development decisions before we lose things that are irreplaceable. I think, for instance, it is a bit facetious to call certain old growth trees replaceable when it takes 500 years to grow one. I down think this is a fair term unless we can do it as individuals in our lifetimes– leaving a legacy comparable to the one we found. I have seen some excellent models of selective logging.
      Scroll down to read a comment or two of mine in response to another comment on this point to read the good news that resulted in this particular case.
      One lesson here is that we must each take responsibility for caring whatever is most precious to us in whatever way we can–as did the neighbors of Southeast Eugene in this case.

  29. I agree with a previous contributor who noted the unfortunate circumstances that lead people to make decisions like the developer in this article. Sometimes we are blinded by circumstances in the short run that prevent us for understanding their long term consequences. I wish people would adopt the wisdom on the indigenous tribesmen discussed in this article. I think summing it up as common sense would be unfair, but it is certainly practical knowledge will very appreciate outcomes. Maybe if we could convince those who would build homes on hillsides that are prone to mudslides and earthquakes to adopt this pratical framework we wouldn’t have to hear about homes being swallowed by the ocean or engulfed in flames so often…

  30. I’ve watched a similar situation unfold in Clackamas County. The hillsides have been cleared away of all trees. If water is a problem it is engineered to run off into fenced of manmade collection areas located in the middle of the housing development. Houses are basically stacked on top of each other terraced into the hillside all complete with a view of the back of their neighbor’s home; while being held up by a massive retaining wall. I understand the need for jobs and progress and development. But what I don’t understand is how community leaders think this is ok. Why is it ok to clear all living things from these developments? Really, how much more would it cost to leave a portion of the trees? The soil is mostly clay in the area and it seems that it is only a matter of time before there is a massive landslide. The situation is even more unfortunate now because most of the builders in the area are bankrupt . As you drive up the hill there are hundreds of vacant lots and vacant homes. The green hillside is a giant pile of dirt waiting for the next hot real-estate market. The area is “lonely” there isn’t a sense of community in the neighborhood. My friends who live in this development have been there for about 4 years and do not know any of their neighbors.

    • This is a sad example–and one that tells us much about the considerations we ought to be making when we decide to “develop” any landscape by wiping out the natural life and replacing it with something we choose to place there. Short term benefits– even if that, as you point out, for all concerned. Thanks for this comment, Anedra.

  31. The image you painted when you talked about Father Blanchet’s description of the “lonely Indian huts” is very effectual and beautifully described, however, very somber in a way. I imagined very crudely built huts in the middle of a outstretched terrain when I first read “lonely Indian huts,” but your next comment indicates that these huts were very well engineered and constructed to fit a large amount of people. Its very interesting how some individuals do not see beauty in nature or structures created from purely natural things. To be honest, I don’t understand the mindset. How is it possible that a part of society today find no beauty or uniqueness in natural habitats or environments? Must this appreciation be learned, as well as inherited, or do these individuals shut out their inner desire to look upon something natural without alterations by living in a society that promotes environmental change? This article states clearly that “we have inherited this notion along with the idea of the developing the land from scratch: the notion that we can and should reshape ourselves into socially acceptable forms.” Does this statement directly imply that the society is the prime cause of this desire to change or are their other factors, as well? It is clear that in Native American societies, they had a strong kinship with other living beings, but the Western mindset seems to have never been this way. One might wonder what causes a society to travel down such a path until the society sees no beauty in nature… nor in the memoirs of the elderly who have shaped and upkept the environment for current generations to destroy its natural beauty.

    • Could question here, Kristen. It think that there is no doubt that this failure to see the natural world (and natural peoples) is a cultural attitude that must be taught to us. Firstly, the earliest and most sustainable of human cultures do not exhibit this tendency. Secondly, if ALL humans were so blind to the natural world as it is, I don’t see how we would have survived as a species.

  32. First of all, great essay. As a former mortgage broker I have talked to many developers, and real estate agents that think anything can be done to the land in order to get their way and make a buck. Having worked in this industry for 8 long, long years I found myself hating money…and what it does to our spiritual being, which should include earths natural resources.

    I like what you say here, ” But change is not the same thing as disturbance–and certainly not the same thing as obliteration.” I will go a step further and say that disturbance is not the same thing as natural disturbance. I think you meant disturbance in this regard, however, I think disturbance can occur through forcable human action (developers-bulldozers), whereas natural disturbance just happens…uncontrolled. And good, natural change results from natural disturbances. Sure, at first the change (e.g., floods, volcanic eruptions) may have a negative impact on humans, but for the long term of the whole…it’s all good! As you put it our breathing (natural disturbance) is change…I’ll say, good change (trees need us and we need them).

    I think you may have, in the same paragraph from which the quote came, summarized what I’ve wrote here. Let me know if I’m on track here.

  33. The lonely hut paints a picture with many connotations. The new people in this land did not see these structures and the land from the same perspective as a native. This is normal and expected. Native peoples when brought to modern cities must have felt little for the towering buildings and new technology. The values imparted on and learned by an individual shape the view they will have of different things. Our current culture and lives in general place minimal importance on the land, and place an objective value on it. This has lead to a misuse of our land and a missed opportunity to preserve that which is natural.

    • Thank you for your comment, Ross. Good points about being unprepared to see differences given particular cultural backgrounds– still I am not sure seeing a nearly two hundred foot long house as a “hut” can be chalked up to this alone. I can imagine that indigenous folks entering a city do not see nothing there. And though they might see parts of cities as a wasteland (a point well taken, I think, given the conditions of parts of our cities), they would not see them as things it was up to them to transform so that they could use them for their own ends. Thus there is a particular cast to the type of cultural relativism/limited vision in the sight of those who “developed” the Pacific Northwest. Pointedly, it was more than human life that the explorers often missed as well. You have an excellent point about missed opportunity here: if wisdom is the ability to learn from the past, perhaps we can pick this opportunity up once again in the face of our current ecological crises.

  34. It’s really sad that even when the Indians were helping the pioneers survive in the new world, they still saw them as disposable. I can’t imagine being saved by someone and at the same time thinking about how soon, they won’t be there anymore.

    Blanchet must have been a lonely man, not being able to see the world for what it is, but only what he could make it. He was missing out on so much learning, inspiration and discovery. If we view everything as something we already know, there is no room for creativity or invention.

    • You have made some excellent points about loneliness and perception here, Chris. I do think you are right that there is a vast loneliness in the modern dislocation from nature–and sometimes we can only console ourselves in this (perhaps even feel we are actually here?) by asserting a supposed “mastery” over the world around us.

  35. I often wonder at which point will the majority of people realize what negative damage humans cause that is unnecessary. So many projects overlook the underlying effects that they have. I remember learning about the architecht that was going to build on the land that was destined for landslides. It is unfortunate that some people do not possess the trait of seeing something from different angles. He could have found another “slate” to build on. I also see these traits carrying into our physical world. How did it ever become okay to change the way we were created? I know there are cases when plastic surgery may deem to be a good choice, but don’t people see the negative effects that also come with that. Every action has a reaction, I think it is possible to open out minds more and see further into the future if people stop concentrating on the immediate wants and present moment. Great article.

    • Thanks, Lorena. I think your point about the assumed necessity of destroying our environment is well taken– we need to think a bit more creatively as well as carefully. There was a great quote that came out of a student protest in Paris in 1968: “The worst oppression is the sense the reality is the only possibility”. You make an excellent point for the precautionary principle in terms of assuming responsibility for the future consequences of our actions.

  36. It is surprising to me the uncaring nature that many big business men have towards the environment and their consumer. The developer did not care whether or not his homes could withstand being in a land slide area; he was simply out for a quick building job, to make quick money, without further consideration on the families that may be moving into the area, or the lives he may be destroying by building on the site. I find that one of the most important aspects of this article is the comment made towards the end about the fact that if we destroy our sources of sustenance, then we are going with them. This is a true statement, and it is scary to me to think of the future of humankind. We have become an uncaring society, which is unfair to the rest of the beings that share the planet with us.

  37. I find the thinking behind drastically altering the landscape for development to be almost ironic: I assume that the developer wanted to build houses on a hill like that for the view, but the view is fundamentally changed by building the houses there in the first place. Someone would want to own a house on the beach for the view of the ocean, but then they have to hold back the ocean with levies to keep it from destroying their house. It’s almost as if they want too experience nature, but don’t want to bother experiencing it in a natural way. They are doing the equivalent of putting up a TV with a nature movie playing instead of a window, but changing the landscape can have serious ecological implications that they most likely have not bothered to consider.

    What is your opinion on changing the natural world for a reason that might possibly benefit the natural world? For example, bulldozing a forest to build a preserve for some endangered animal species.

    • Great point about the irony of wanting to experience nature– but not as it is– that is, what we wanted in the first place. It is as if we want to put nature in a museum. Good luck with that when we come to the ocean or earthquakes and landslides–and as you point out, the museum we create for nature is not why we desire to live on certain landscapes in the first place. The issue of changing the landscape to “benefit nature” is one that is coming up in certain restoration work– for instance, cutting down fir trees to restore oak savanna. Or destroying invasive plants (which I certainly don’t have a problem with–they can make very useful compost) with herbicides (which I do have a problem with). I think we need to assess each case carefully– defining “natural” is a matter of controversy-what restore point do we want to go back to? I think in tact ecosystems have important values–and I wouldn’t want to ravage them in any account. Two ideas we might use to assess such cases are the honoring of nature’s resilience and the “rights of nature” (in the essay I just put up here). And I think when given the choice, we ought to focus on managing ourselves and our own relationship to the natural world–in that arena less attempt to control and more support for nature’s own processes is the preferable course. That is, we should be careful to keep our own ego involvement our of the issue. This is, of course, just my own opinion. Thanks for the question.

  38. The Eugene developer is a good example of how we have not yet learned from our mistakes. I think part of why we don’t learn is because we do not have to, at least initially. The ‘winners’ write the history books. Anything we learn of our own history in school fails to ever mention the injustices committed or differing views from our own (with any integrity, at least). So far we have not had to learn because we can continue our domination and requisition of natural resources from somewhere new and maintain status quo. At this point we are reaching the limits around the globe. Change is necessary, but slow.

    The metaphor of Extreme Makeover is appropriate and powerful.

  39. The beauty of the nature is a source that we must keep, however, sadly enough this can be simply wiped out by developments. After leaving in Mexico City for 15 years of my life, I can truly relate myself with this article. Due to the development of skyscrapers and many other powerful and unnecessary material things, the presence of nature, green trees, a blue sky, clean air, healthy water and green grass was destroy and ruin in Mexico City. Now we are facing pollution, sickness and many other consequences that in the future will be even harder to fix. The nature is an important source and we should not destroy it, let’s be smart and let’s draw a line on our developments and our actions. Its important to let nature become part of our lives, not only because is a great resource, but also because its beauty can bond us in many ways, physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. I cannot stress out how badly I needed the beautiful presence of the nature when I lived in busy city like Mexico, City.

  40. One of the most interesting points made in this article is that the concept of a “blank slate” can be transferred from development to other “objects” such as other humans or other species. In the example given where individuals see their own bodies as capable of being remade, it echoes not only our dominant worldview but also our superficial worldview. The Western worldview cares more about aesthetics and monetary values than it does about knowing and appreciating something. In ‘Dwellings’ Hogan states that she wants to “know what dwells beneath the surface of things.” We seem to have lost the mystery that comes with believing that things can be more than they seem. We are not using all of our senses anymore to search, explore, and connect with the natural world.

    Another example of this dominant and superficial worldview can be seen in the breeding of animals, particularly dogs. Dogs are breed to have particular qualities humans determine are valuable or aesthetically pleasing. However most breeds have deficiencies (bad hips, bad eye sight, etc.) or would probably not survive without human intervention (i.e. the English bulldog). We have decided to play God and alter the evolutionary track of the canine species. However if God is all knowing … why do we even try? All knowing implies a greater understanding of the past, present, and future consequences of our actions.

    • Great point about what we might call “deep” beauty-and mystery. I for one am heartened by the idea that we will never quite know everything about how the natural world operates. It is sad that we have bred so many creatures that could not exist without us– some of these breeds would vanish immediately, for instance, if they did not give birth by Caesarian section, since the body type we have bred into these animals will not support natural birth.

  41. I have had a few experiences with engineers, two of whom were my roommates and another being my older brother. This lets me know that they don’t all think alike however there does seem to be this notion that because they’re able to build they are more powerful than the land they build on. It’s sad but a reality I have came face to face with the last two years living with my roommates. We seem to want to build in unnecessary places in order to make a profit. The homes that are built alike all right next to each other with no yards involve taking hundreds of trees down don’t look better than that natural beauty that was removed to do so, so why do we insist on continuing this behavior?

    • Thanks for pointing out that not all engineers are alike– we have had many with sound environmental values over the years in this class. Whereas many engineers do inherit the cultural idea that they are more powerful than nature, others are focusing their ingenuity and impulse toward designing and building things toward more creative partnerships with the natural world. We certainly need the latter. You make like the stories of the engineers in Gaviotas. And why do we persist in such destructive behavior? I don’t think there is one answer: we have backward economic system which rewards such destruction, for one thing. For another, there is that worldview issue. And both of these are places where we can begin to turn things around.

  42. I live in Bend, Oregon where there is always a resort or golf course trying to purchase land in a pristine spot or a housing development knocking out Junipers and Ponderosas while prying out huge bolders so more people can move here. What’s more is then large turfs of green grass are put in that take mass amounts of water to keep green (this is the desert, for crying out loud!). After the housing boom went sour many of the houses that were built sit empty and lonely and around them is a barren landscape that was once full of trees and life. The evidence of greed surrounds this town and if it wasn’t for the plummeting of the housing market it might have kept going until Bend was no longer a desirable, beautiful place to live but a sprawling suburb void of it’s true sense of space.

    • Thanks for your observation, Jessica. It seems that “vacation destinations” are set up to make their visitors feel that they live in a world without day to day worries or limits. Bend is not Shangrila– though the native desert is gorgeous, sensitive desert landscapes need substantial care of the type you obviously feel.

  43. First, I have to say that this quote, for some reason, stood out to me more than any other part of the reading: “We knew whites had arrived when we woke up one morning and the river was moved.”
    This quote stirred some kind of deep-rooted sadness in me; sadness for what we’ve done to the original landscape of the Pacific Northwest and for the indigenous peoples who had to witness the uprooting of all they held dear…their homes. It is disheartening to know that at one time, humans lived in complete harmony with the “natural world”. I say this is disheartening because I so wish I could experience that harmony, without the war, disease, and complete devastation of humanity. I could honestly go on and on about my despair in regard to the current state of the Earth, but I don’t want to be depressing lol. I just hope that some day, we can end the tragedy in this world so we can reunite and become one with nature again.

    • Thanks for your comment, Randa. I know there is much grief over the ravaging of the wonders of the natural world that sustains us. Actually, the indigenous world was not without disease, nor was it perfect: it WAS a world in which there was recognition and honoring of the life-filled natural world. The earth needs our care no less than it once did. There is much to appreciate and attend to today as we work our way back to the vision you present in your last sentence.

  44. I think it is sad that we have come to disregard our earth and land as something that we take for granted. Similarlto the beginning of this article we have come to expect that the land is just ours for the taking with a complete disregard for the wildlife and plants that take refuge in the places that we are rapidly building upon.

  45. As I contemplate where I want to live these days, I have been looking into sustainable communities. This article reminds me of my experience in my search. Often times, I look at homes in communities in the area, and the developers proclaim the great atmosphere, and the new houses, with the well-laid out community. When I visit the neighborhood, I find plots of land with all the trees and vegetation removed. The landscapes have been changed to adapt to how they want it to look, and look nothing like the surrounding area. Trees are scarce, and in reality, only saplings that they recently planted in strategic places. Everything begins to look like it was made from a cookie-cutter.
    BUT, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I have found a few communities that seem to have the aesthetic, sustainable preservation at it’s core. These communities build houses with as little disruption to the surrounding environment, often with the ability to preserve many of the centuries old trees. The houses are built into the landscape instead of the landscape moved around to fit the house. The houses and the communities in general allow the ability to walk or ride your bike to some of the common destinations, such as the grocery store, bank, pharmacy, movie theatre, and so forth. The lots are odd shapes, and allow to feel like you are in a natural setting, that you are a part of the earth, instead of man as the king of the earth. Unfortunately, it seems these communities are far and few between. Let’s hope we can begin to change the way we think.
    On a side note, this article reminds my of my parent’s neighborhood. Originally, when they built their house, there were only a few houses in the area. They built it in a section that was solid, and good for building. Then, twenty years later, developers bought the adjacent lands, which were all bogs and swamps. The builders developed communities upon these lands, and for the next 10 years, many of the homes began to have issues due to being built upon a swamp!!! Plus, there were severe drainage issues because the developers thought they could “change the way the land moved.” How sad.

    • The sustainable development you describe– which also conserves natural aesthetics– is a heartening trend, Danielle. Who would not wish to live in such a community? There is a developer in Portland who adheres to these norms in building low income housing. Ironically, his developments are so popular that higher income people are buying in– let’s hope they don’t force out their original clientele by raising the prices. (I am sorry I read about him but don’t remember his name).
      It is about time that development became integral– setting those businesses we patronize close at hand.
      There is another new trend in this regard rating the “walkability” of particular neighborhoods. Turns out it is real selling point to have such things close at hand.
      Long term results of stupid — or take the money and run– development habits are everywhere-as in a whole hillside of houses that slid down the hill not so long ago in Berkeley. I recently heard about a house built on an “elite” hillside development in Eugene that will need an entirely new foundation going down to bedrock to stop it from sliding. Sinking is another issue you bring up: the high school in South Eugene is built on a wetland and it has sump pump in the basement to pump out the water that would otherwise sink the whole school.
      At the same time, wetlands are bad for building they are good for water filtration, species diversity and in general conserving our precious water resources. Thank goodness there are now rules that discourage building in such areas– if only they had come fifty years earlier. That is why we need the precautionary principle so someone won’t be saying that about our actions in fifty years.
      Thanks for your comment and good luck in pursing a better place to live!

  46. Building in areas that flood, burn and fall down are so common in the US, it is almost unbelievable. The scary thing is that we rebuild after our homes are destroyed over and over again. Seems like we haven’t learned our lesson yet even after we have been taught the same lesson many times. I think you care right that people think that they can change things with technology or machinery and build anything anywhere without considering natural conditions and how they might be impacted by what we build.

    • Indeed, Christina– we haven’t learned out lessons about locating our houses in harmony with the natural world– in appropriate places for what we build. I think the problem is that there is still money to be made from such mismanagement–and those that build such developments aren’t responsible for what happens to them a few years down the road. Perhaps that is one way to address this issue: by making developers responsible for the repercussions of their siting choices.

  47. I took a soil class last year and did some testing on the flowerbed where I am currently living. I found that when the building “developers” built houses here, the scraped away the topsoil to level the lots before the houses were built. This was pretty ignorant of them as by doing this, they scraped away the majority of the nutrients for the soil. It seems that we think the land is here for us to manipulate so that we can live on it, not with it.

    • It certainly is a dumb idea to scrape off topsoil, Jennifer. Now you are left with the task of remaking your garden soil so you can grow anything. Likely the developer had no appreciation of what good land means.

  48. I know developers like the man mentioned in this article and have experienced the disaster that can occur when people don’t pay attention to nature and the history of the land. Five years ago my aunts house literally slid down the side of a mountain and into the ocean after a year full of heavy rains. The developer acted like it was her fault and refused to take responsiblity. She lost everything because of his cavalier attitude about the history of the land.

  49. I think that it is arrogant when people try to drastically change the land for profit. Not only is it arrogant, though, but it is unrealistic to think that a person can alter the “behaviors” of nature simply by moving some dirt around. While it is unfortunate that people lose their homes to natural disasters, in some cases I find myself thinking: who in their right mind would build a house there? What were they expecting would happen? Sometimes people don’t have a choice where they build their houses or the natural circumstances, but when it comes to building multimillion dollar homes, a sensible person would think that something so expensive would be built somewhere safe from natural disasters. Sure, you can’t prevent earthquakes, hurricanes, and flooding, but when I lived in California I often wondered why people built their homes on cliffs and hills, leaving them subject to the inevitable earthquake and/or landslide. When rain in Southern California a few years ago resulted in mudslides and tore apart homes on hills, I couldn’t help but think it was irresponsible to build them there in the first place. On the other hand, there is little more devastating to see than big muddy holes in a once fertile and green landscape or forests clear-cut and left unseeded and bare (in this case, it doesn’t even seem to be done to clear land for houses).

    • Thank you for your comment, Lauren. I think it indicates that arrogance and ignorance often go together– along with more than a dash of greed.
      It is wrenching indeed to see such gutted land!

  50. The reshaping of nature and of people to fit into a mold of ideal beauty reminds me of the Riceur’s idea about Nature being a puzzle to be solved. The doctors and developers are figuring out how they can maniulate, shape (or misshapen) human body and landscape to suit their own needs–and make a profit. It comes back to dominance and control over others. We are conditioned to accept and allow it without question.

    • This is certainly a system of control as you point out, Erin. It is a sad fact that so many willingly accept re-shaping of our own bodies–and of the world that sustains us. Thanks for your comment.

  51. we are part of nature and as this great article erasing the nature is erasing our identities. One way to get benefits from the nature is by valuing it and treat it as one of our loved people. In this way we will receive the respect from the nature as we respect it and I am glad that there are people who are thinking in valuing the nature. This article makes me think about the nature more and more.

    • I like the way you put this: that erasing nature is erasing our own identity, Duaa. To treat the natural world with the respect we would like to receive in turn is an important way of honoring it, as you indicate.

  52. I think that the “blank slate” idea is terrifying. It is attitudes like this that can undo hundreds or thousands of years of partnership with the environment. For example, when Europeans began colonizing North America, they thought that they could do anything they wanted with it. Why did they feel that way? Because they thought that it was untouched wilderness, begging to be improved. What the Europeans didn’t see is that there was a complex system of land management going on. Native peoples had worked with the land for centuries, and knew its intricacies and its quirks. They knew how many fish they could take, the right places to find food, the right methods of burning the land in order to regenerate crops and revitalize the land. But all the whites saw was wilderness that they could “domesticate.”

    This dangerous attitude continues to this day. People ignore the complex ecosystems that have been there and been working for innumerable years. I cannot believe that people hold back and dominate the water so they can live in places that were never meant to be lived in. It is another way that we take power over the water. We ignore the fact that nature was doing its thing long before we ever existed.

    If there was ever a cry for a partnership mentality, this essay might be it. (Excepting, of course, Prof. Holden’s essay on partnership.)

    • Hi Amanda, acting toward the land as if it were a “blank slate” is an act of terror– and therefore as you state, “terrifying”. It is a substantial tragedy for both the natural world and natural peoples that the systems of life built up in thousands of years of partnership could be so erased by a sense of license insisting that the land belonged to the conquerors to do anything they wished with. I appreciate your thoughtful response: you have summed up the central points in this essay and the repercussions of this historical and (sadly) contemporary dynamic.

  53. I appreciate this essay, Madronna. It is important for humans to look at how we interact with the earth. The more we are able to self-reflect about our impulse to dominate the earth, the more we will come to see how detrimental that behavior is and will always be. I think an important line in the essay above is “change is not the same thing as disturbance–and certainly not the same thing as obliteration.” So often I hear that the current planetary devastation is inevitable because humans inevitably change their surroundings. This is true to a point, but as you point out above, change doesn’t have to equate to disturbance or obliteration. We have somehow convinced ourselves that whatever we do to the planet is okay because we are humans. I think this mentality leads to loneliness. We have managed to disconnect ourselves from the earth through our need to dominate and in the process have cut ourselves off to the beauty, love and support that the planet selflessly offers us.

    • Self-reflection is, as you indicate Dazzia, a key ingredient in healing the damage that some humans have done to our environment–and to other humans as well. I also think you are right that there is a terrible loneliness in the attitude of domination– as if there were nothing in the world truly worthy of the name of life but the dominators.
      And I have too often heard the excuse for human behavior that humans “always” change things: as if had neither choice nor responsibility in how we change them.

      • I think that this inability to take responsibility or hold oneself accountable is at the very foundation of all of the worlds problems today. An issue so large and overwhelming, I’m not quite sure how it will be remedied. While we see some movement in positive directions with environmental and social causes, we still struggle with the overwhelming influence of those who are unwilling to take responsibility for their actions. Equally at fault, perhaps, are those of us unwilling or unable to hold these same people accountable. I suppose we cannot forever be inactive onlookers.

        • Hi Dazzia, this is certainly a large problem, as you say. Apathy and carelessness is certainly the opposite of the care we need to exert. I think those we much hold accountable are especially our elected officials–and those who make money from our dollar misspent on products that are not ethically produced.

  54. Your “blank slate” illustration was very interesting. It’s crazy to think about the world and the different ways that people can view it. Either as a powerful, living being that is following it’s own course or as a blank slate which we have the ability to manipulate and use for our own purposes. I understood the whole thing on a different level when you compared the earth to our own bodies. Since I have grown up basically with our earth in it’s current conditions and haven’t necessarily watched huge cities being built up where a river once flowed. Iit was easier for me to understand when thinking about a body. Just the other day I saw a tiny little woman with the hugest boobs ever, orange skin black rimmed eyes and yellow hair and plastic fingernails. It was hard to distinguish anything on her entire body that was meant to be that way. It’s sad to see what was probably a beautiful woman completely rebuilt and remodeled into something entirely artificial. I imagine that is a fraction of how native American’s must have felt as they watched the beautiful land being destroyed.

    • Hi Allysa, thanks for your comment. I’m glad you could relate to the ways in which we either accept or try to entirely remake our bodies! It is sad and if we stop and stand back and look at it– bizarre as well.

  55. My take home overarching theme from this article is that nature is a living thing. Far too often, I believe, that people think they can domesticate and own it. Given that mentality produces a level of disrespect and an inequality between human beings and nature is present. I have always found Indigenous populations to carry out life the correct way. If the same people who look at the land as a clean slate to build their dream castles, took some time to learn the lessons of ecofeminism, I believe that everything from big houses to plastic surgery would be different. There is just no way that pernicious actions would be made if appropriate respect for the land and our bodies was applied.

    Thank you,
    Dana

    • I think you have a powerful point to remember here, Dana. Nature is indeed a living thing! I am glad you are hopeful about the results of changing perspectives-all we have to do is figure out how to do that. But I think that we have a head start in that those big houses and re-engineered bodies don’t often seem to bring happiness to those who have them.

  56. It just shows that man is still the ‘main’ person in nature, that he can control everything to his whim with no regards to how it affects the world around him. Shows such as extreme makeover also continues the image that women must fit the look that man has placed on beauty. All of this is proof that we must change our worldview to one that works with nature and not against.

    • I agree with humans try to create such control–but I don’t think they are very good at it: one reason why we are working in our favor when we also try to work with nature. Thanks for your comment, Adeena.

  57. The quote “We knew whites had arrived when we woke up one morning and the river was moved.” actually made me laugh out loud because it’s so true. We “whites” have really used this land for everything we want, without taking into consideration the damage we are doing to it. It seems ludicrous to think that a contractor would build houses on the bank of a body of water consisting of clay. Not to mention bulldozing the forest for his own building use.

    • It seems all too prevalent that such developers will try to make a quick buck and then leave the scene before the consequences show up, Katy. I think this developer had convinced himself he could just re-engineer the whole hillside and citizens with concerns were just holding up “progress”. One thing that came out of this was a proposal by an economics professor that developers put up an insurance bond so that they are responsible for problems their development caused after they leave the scene.

  58. The opinion that nature is our canvas and we can reshape it however we choose, seems to be the popular opinion in our society. Shows like Extreme Makeover, and the like, definitely perform the surgical equivalent of clear cutting on their participants. It’s a symptom of a mentality that is forever unsatisfied and insatiable in its view of conquering nature, and sees any deviation from popular conceptions of beauty to be a problem to be corrected. For example places like where I live, on the island of Kauai, are known for being the perfect example of popular notions of nature’s beauty. However, are they more beautiful than the rocky erosion and deep cuts in the Arizona desert? Beauty is in diversity and in differentiation. As we seek to remake nature in our image, we simply remove diversity from the world and make more buildings, houses, and cement “communities.” I have yet to see a human development as beautiful as the Grand Canyon, the craters of Waiale’ale’, or the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia. The notion that we can improve upon nature and build housing indiscriminately, seems to be a form of insanity. In my opinion”land development” is a misnomer, because the land was already fully developed in its natural state. What they are doing is erasing that natural development in order to fit their wants. How can someone claim to develop the land beyond how nature created it? No housing development is ever as beautiful as the land where it once stood. For example, where I live on the South side of the island of Kauai in Hawaii, we have a new project called Kukui’ula development. They market the community as “Kauai’s living garden.” This is a giant gated community where the average resident has a net worth of over 20 million dollars. What the residents don’t realize is that their “development” was created by leveling and destroying an actual living garden that existed in the area before the community. I used to go for runs and jog in the area when it was beautiful, pristine, rugged, and natural. When they built Kukui’ula, they actually destroyed all the natural beauty of the area. This is ironic, because you could camp in the area for free when it was beautiful, but now that it is cement you have to be a millionaire to live there. I remember hearing explosions and dynamite as they “created” the area to level hills and bore through mountains. I took a flight in a Cessna during that time and got very upset, because from the sky the area now looked like a vast leveled, post-apocalyptic wasteland, almost like a rock quarry or a salt mine. Today, the area has a new shopping mall, mansions, and hummers everywhere. The idea that this is development and improvement is insulting to me. The area is not now, and will never again, be as beautiful as it was when it was natural. At some point, there has to be an end to this development madness, or one day we will wake up and there will be no land left to develop.

    • This is a tragic story, Joshua. There is much grief among many who have witnessed such devastation. I read recently that a science journal published an article on such grief calling it an “ecological unconscious” that registers on a community’s psyche as they see such changes.
      Vandana Shiva, I think quite appropriately, calls such human-made changes “mal-development”.
      And perhaps if exquisite natural beauty calls us to community care (as in the experiments cited in “you can’t blame it on nature”), there is a reason why there seems to be such aggressive attacks on it by those with a cultural stance of conquest: it is an affront and challenge to their values.

  59. It occurs to me that one of the problems Western cultures face when trying to assert dominance over nature is the concept we have that requires us to be settled permanently and finds certain natural areas more desirable than others. It seems many indigenous peoples, including natives in the Pacific Northwest move their settlements based on what the land has to offer at different times. In this way they can reap the benefits of the land at different times without trying to change the land to work for them. We want to live in the fertile area near the river but aren’t willing, or perhaps society doesn’t allow us to live their seasonally and relocate to land above the flood line when the seasons change. It seems that the mobile indigenous society allow themselves to live in a way that is more mindful of nature then we do by insisting on having our permanent settlements in places that are desirable, if not practical, for us.

    • Thoughtful, Katy. Actually, indigenous peoples west of the Cascades had permanent winter villages and only moved in temporary harvesting camps. In fact, there is much satirical folklore on the fact that “settlers” were never really settled in one place as against native people’s own longevity on the land. It is true, however, that we try to adapt the land to ourselves rather than vice versa– a tact that native peoples were particularly good at. There are a number of posts on this site that talk about the true “settlers” on this land.

  60. Living in West Virginia it is pretty obvious where you should and should not live. There are mountains and there are valleys. That is it. The watershed is a snail’s pace at the higher elevations and vicious down near the rivers. Every year all over the state people get flooded out of their home and FEMA pays them damages. Every year, sometimes multiple times a year, the same people in the same places are flooded. My hometown of New Cumberland is partially at water level and partially well above the river. I have said for years, the state should turn the downtown into a simple park and evict the people who live there. FEMA has bailed these people out so many times they were told it would be their last bailout a few years ago. They were given money to relocate. Instead the people bought new cars and wasted the money. The Native Americans who lived here 200 years ago did not live in the flood zones. My parents house is on a hill. There is a possibility of natural disasters anywhere but I believe avoiding flooding, for the most part, is a no brainer. Water always flows down.

  61. I enjoyed this article a lot and I share the same thoughts as you. I feel we built on land so carelessly in the past because we were selfish and also didn’t know the impacts we had on the environment and the impacts the environment may have on us. We also could have just been just been a little too “star struck” by the frontier left by the Native Americans. I am “VERY” glad however that people can no longer build like this anymore in California no matter how much they try. It’s to my knowledge that in order to build somewhere now they have to do an environmental impact report and pass an environmental impact assessment. However, working for the County of Monterey for one summer as an intern/employee, I did witness in person that some people built things such as sheds anyways without consent and were flagged by the county for doing so. Anyways, I definitely feel that we are on the right track on controlling this type of development and hopefully will keep this up even with increasing population pressure.

    • I agree with the Regan. Environmental impact assessment requirements differ from place to place and their approval by the local planning boards also differs too often with the political and economic interests of the board members.

  62. “I cannot imagine a more lonely existence than that of the man who finds the world empty of everything but his vision for remaking it.” Well put. We must ask ourselves, when we alter the land for our own ends and use people as a means to those ends, what are we really seeking? Money, yes. But money is only a symbol, only a conduit. What we want when we want money, is power, and what we want when we seek power is security; security from death and danger and loosing those we love. This is an ancient motif, but so often it seems ignored. I start to feel that greed is winning. I am glad to read articles like this one, and to study alternatives to the dominate culture; I am happy to find evidence that it doesn’t have to be this way.

    • I agree that it doesn’t have to be this way, Michele. The trick is to encourage social contexts (and use our own actions to model) values that bring out the best in us. Thanks for your comment.

  63. The idea that people can just keep developing the entire world as indiscriminately as they want to has always seems ridiculous to me. There is only so much plant life on earth and those plants create the oxygen that we breathe. Eventually if we keep cutting down all the green on the Earth to pave it and build housing, there will simply not be enough green to support the amount of oxygen required in the atmosphere for humans to breath. I have heard estimates the in 2050 the world’s population level will reach 8 billion. How can 8 billion people expect to live in houses made of cement and carved into the landscape? To me, there seems to be a limit on how much the land can be developed in this way, and we are fast approaching the limitations. The ways of living that the indigenous people had mastered enabled them to survive in balance with nature for thousands of generations. If we have any hope of surviving this population boom, there seems to be no choice but to find some way of going back to a way of life similar to the Native Americans. There has to be some limit on development and reproduction. These 2 factors have the power to create desolation for human beings, yet they both go on with very little regulation.

    • The notion that we can continue to build cement scapes rests on our forgetting the green sources of our lives. Hopefully, we will catch onto this soon! I like the movement in Portland, Oregon (deprave.org) that is reversing this process: taking out cement and putting greenscapes back.
      As for population, which is certainly an issue: as Frances Moore Lappe and others point out, research indicates that the two interrelated and effective ways to get communities to limit family size is to give women economic and give the community access to adequate and nutritional food.
      There is also the issue that conscious choice in the US can help the entire world situation, since the average US citizen uses 24 times the resources as an individual in certain third world and indigenous contexts. We need to model something different to the rest of the world!
      Thanks for your thoughtful response, Joshua.

  64. I never really thought about all the changes that we have done to our Earth. The indigenous people before us lived for thousands of years, successfully, without making the vast obliteration’s to the land like we do today. Like the end of the essay says, change isn’t all bad, but amounts of change that we are addicted to today are. If we don’t like the way something looks, we don’t try and learn to love things the way they are, but instead shape them into what we imagine is perfection. Plastic surgery is a scary truth that we see all the time in our modern world. If someone doesn’t like the shape of their nose, they don’t learn to accept themselves the way they were born, but instead flip through magazines, find a nose they feel is “perfection”, and shape their nose that way. We need to look at the indigenous people who lived on our land for thousands of years, and learn from them. If we continue to change the world we live in, eventually we will all look the same, and our Earth will be unrecognizable.

  65. The perspective of the developer is, unfortunately, an attitude that seems to be a common theme in our society today. The idea of changing something into what we want or need it to be regardless of how it is meant to be is a destructive way of thinking that has carried over into fields beyond development of homes. The Skokomish joke about the river being moved is both funny and sad because its true– the mentality of our culture is to get results my whatever means necessary. We don’t take the time to consider the process and what we might be damaging or the potential ramifications that might result in the future.

    Applying the way developers see land and the way our culture sees female bodies is a very important parallel and one very relevant to the concerns of ecofeminists. Such as our patriarchal society has come to feel that is it our right to destroy nature or display our dominance over it, so has been revealed about the way we think bodies should be. Disregarding what biology and evolution have created as healthy bodies to carry babies and be sexually attractive, media and other social cues have changed our perspective of what women are “supposed” to look like, therefore instigating a new type of developments– only this time on the body. Regardless of what harm may be done to the mind and body or the serious complications that result from cosmetic surgeries, we continue to reinforce the image of bodies that are not genetically typical and therefore create a skewed image of reality. Young girls grow up believing that they are not the beautiful the way they were biologically crafted to be– that good health is not an adequate aspiration but external beauty. The route to get there destroys the natural beauty that already exists and erases nature. The connection of land development and permanent body alterations are sadly very similar– the beauty of both has been lost and now are seen simply as a canvas to work on.

  66. The phrase that caught my attention in this essay is the “lonely hut” the imagery it produced for me was a memory of driving through a remote part of northern California in the spring. We came around a curve in the road and off in the distance there was a tiny wooden house, long deserted and falling apart, surrounded by a field of tall grass dotted with daisies. I expressed my delight in the sight and imagined that living there must have been peaceful. My fellow traveler looked at me like I was nuts and commented on the remoteness and how lonely the they must have been. We have to be able to ‘see’ the world before we can care for it.

  67. I think that in this article, what i found most interesting wat this statement, “But if our current environmental crises teach us anything it is that when we attempt erase nature what we really succeed at is erasing ourselves”, I stated in another article, that I think that humans have forgotten that we live in a natural world that we impact everyday of our lives. We are just oblivious to it. Our media is somewhat making us aware but overall, I really think that most people are indifferent. especially in the U.S. One must go outside the bounds of conventional media to understand that humanity and nature are one and the same and we are all affected by what we do on a daily basis.

  68. I like the connection made in the article relating “extreme makeover” and plastic surgery to our attempt to remake the earth to suit our “needs” and aesthetic whims. We have come to focus our entire lives on changing things “for the better,” not realizing (or caring) that all things are they way they are because it is the most convenient and beneficial way when you look at the big picture.

    The bit about the developer is sadly not surprising in the least – and it is more disturbing that I’m sure if those homes were built, there would be ready and willing customers at the door when he finished. In this sense people are lacking in their respect for nature not only by trying to change it, but also by underestimating her immense power to proceed with what she will regardless of human developments (consider the impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans).

    • Great perspective, Kate. And you are right about the self-destructive approach to such attempts to re-shape the natural world. In the case of the developers who paid so little attention to slopes and soil types, I know a “green” builder in Eugene who has had to try to fix one disaster after another for individuals who bought such houses and whose problems with them arose long after the developer left the scene. Re-doing the foundation and attempting to handle drainage in such situations is not cheap! I think we ought to have some sort of insurance bond that developers need to take out that makes them responsible for the long term effects of their choices. If they are only thinking about their pocketbooks that at least should make them a bit more aware of their choices.

    • Hi Kate,
      I agree with your thought about how we as humans seem to need constant change in the search for improvement, either in ourselves or those things around us. We have become such a superficial society placing improtance on things that aren’t important at all, such as who has the biggest house on the hill that a developer carved into just to satify some need in a materialistic society.

  69. This was a very interesting article. To the white man, the earth is a blank canvas which to build upon and “improve”, yet who is benefiting from these improvements? In the long run- no one. By destroying the earth we are ultimately destroying ourselves too. I enjoyed the comparison of these unnecessary alterations to that of the human body. Western culture tells us to conform and manipulate tho one ideal of beauty and to torture our bodies or our environment to make it suitable for us to look at.

    These ecological problems always lead me to ask myself why such action is occurring when there are alternatives and i always come back to the answer- money. The contractor could make millions by selling beach-front property. By building a dam even more people could inhabit certain areas creating more revenue. Why aren’t native trees replanted in deforested areas? It would take time and money.

    It is so unfortunate that money and selfishness drives our world but maybe someday, these worldviews will alter in desperation for the survival of mankind.

    • It is unfortunate as you note, Cheyanne, that money rewards drive so many destructive acts in this culture. I say that it is time to stop rewarding the actions and results we don’t want as a society by no longer paying for them.

  70. Examples of how man has changed the landscape to its own image or at least for his own gain are everywhere. One that makes me curious is the long-term effect man has had in the Mediterranean sense man has been there for such a long time. I have read accounts of what the Roman Empire‘s consumption of timber did to the area, also the conversion of wilderness to cropland. I imagine that the ancient world was one of the first places on earth to be permanently altered by man. I even heard that the famous gladiator games lead to extinctions of certain species.

    More relevant to me is the constant reminder I get when I walk in the forest in my area. I live near Valsetz (not far from the Valley of the Giants) which was a booming logging town tell the late 1980’s. I have seen many old photos of the area, which shows huge beautiful trees being cut down. Sometimes I will see these huge stumps that remind of what was once there. I get the feeling that before man came and destroyed it all, this forest in my area was exceptionally beautiful and unique to the world. The remnant of this ancient forest shows that man has erased something that will never come back.

    The article mentioned the developer who thought he could change history with a bulldozer; well I see a similarity with the people who changed the Valsetz forest into what it is now (a 40 year old monoculture of Douglas-fir), which is their intentions of profit (good or bad) effects all of us now and later.

    • Thoughtful response about the Middle East, Zachary–and in fact, there is an essay on this site on precisely this point entitled, “Gilgamesh and other pioneers in paradise” that compares a mythical lesson in that area of the world with the actions of US pioneers. Time to learn the lessons history presents to us–including those about how forest create themselves– for the sake of the precious things on this planet we should not want to lose.

  71. Loneliness is the word that always comes to my mind when reading through your essays and our texts. Our dominant worldview has so separated us from everything else that loneliness is inevitable. Linda Hogan put it so beautifully in “Deify the Wolf”, “What need we humans have, a species lonely and lacking in love.” In learning to treat our environment with respect and reciprocity we start to feel that we belong here, that we have a natural place in the universe, and our loneliness will start to dissipate. This article puts me in mind of the new immigration law enacted in Arizona. If we treat each other with such a lack of compassion, doesn’t it seem reasonable that we would separate ourselves from so much more life has to offer us with our behaviors? Of course, loneliness would be a result of separatist and unkind actions. In my mind this flows into your description of the developer trying to force the land to bend to his will in order for him to make a profit. Can we really feel at home in a world we feel separated enough from to try to bend it to how we envision what it should be rather than what it is?

    • I think you have a powerful point here, Sue. I think that the “domination” perspective is a profoundly lonely one– no wonder so many of us are susceptible to manipulation by consumerism in our attempt to feel fulfilled.
      And about treating others with a lack of compassion– it tends to come back to haunt the society that does it. In looking at Pacific Northwest history, for instance, one can see that over and over again, what the government did to native peoples it eventually got around to doing to its own citizens. I think the issue is that when we sanction a certain behavior, we are liable to see it enacted on us as well.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  72. As much as the industrial world believes they are controling the natural world, I believe they are blind. Sure, the industrial world is mantaining it for now and is affecting it, not always in the best way, but no matter what the natural world is what is sustaining us and will always have that power over us. So when I hear stories such as the developer trying to build homes on a hill prone to landslides, I want to laugh, and hope that maybe someday he will learn his lesson.

    In your paragraph when you speak about Blanchet’s “lonely huts of the Indians”, and how you’re thrown by the word, “lonely.”I couldn’t agree with you more. I can’t fathom why civilization is trying to rebuild what has been given to them. The land on which we live is a gift and we should cherish what we have been given and take care of it. It would be as if someone where given a birthday gift of a dress, but before the person wears that dress they completley alter it before they use it. It is simply rude and disrespectful.

    • I agree with you on this one, Angela–and I think there is some intentional blindness, that is, denial, in the process- since seeing certain things would make the developers’ lives (as in this case) more complex and less a matter of easy profit.
      I would hope that he would learn his lesson– but I’m not sure that will happen unless we make developers responsible for the long term effects of their development– and while we are at it, it wouldn’t hurt to do the same with smoke and chemical “trespass” on the part of those who harm others with careless acts just because they are profitable for them.
      I think it is pretty unfathomable why folks would want to change so much of this precious world if you look at it from your perspective of logic–not to mention, care.

  73. Good points. While I was reading the article, I was wondering if Blanchett and the other pioneer would have felt as alone and uncivilized if they had embraced this different way of life instead of just looking at it as foreign. Instead of looking for comfort in the new world they were living in, they just decided to change it to what they knew. Where’s the sense of adventure in that?? When you write that changing ourselves is another form of changing nature, it brings to mind the reason I would never want plastic surgery – but in a new light. I always loved the fact that I look like my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles on both sides of my family. I want to look like my children too, and vice versa. This represents the fact that nature is history, present, and future, and whatever we change will interrupt that special bond.

  74. Any developer who believes he can recreate the land to suit his desires should be voted down without question or hesitation. I don’t know if the story of this particular developer is recent or past but if it is recent he should have learned from the experiences of Malibu and Venice California. The homes lost to fire and mud slides that follow fires or Santa Ana storms. Ignorance is not bliss when you are taking the lives of many, as well as multiple species, into your hands for your personal desires.

    The Skokomish people had it right on two counts: 1) living near the river in the fertile zone is great during the growing season but moving during the flooding season is just good common sense, 2) you can always tell when the white man has arrived because something will have been moved, remodeled or completely destroyed. I can definitely understand how embittered the natives of the Pacific Northwest might be having the heritage of homes 60 feet in diameter or 200 feet long and having them destroyed for a tavern or anything else the whites deemed more significant.

    I am in total agreement that people who view remaking the land as a necessity for progress are only obliterating themselves in the process. To take for granted that any progress or ‘improvement’ requires the total destruction of what is there to create something else is criminal yet we do it every day. Until everybody realizes the danger in the damage we won’t be able to work for a viable solution. I hope I get to live to see the solution or not live long enough to see the devastation.

  75. Developers should be the poster child of what erasing nature is. The disregard to an area’s history can lead to snowballing problems. I agree that that nature is constantly changing and that development is good. But major mistakes will happen if we’re not careful. Polluting factories are a clear example. Sometimes developers attempt to make things permanent where it simply wasn’t meant to be. It’s good that they think they can find a fix, we westerners do this through optimistic thought, but many times we’re simply wrong and won’t admit the fact. We’ll reshape everything as an excuse. It doesn’t work and may even be working backwards. Our natural resources take hits when it shouldn’t in the first place. In the end we’ll erase the mistakes and eventually ourselves. People get greedy and bite off more than they can can chew.

  76. The premise of this article is very relevant today as we are looking at 200,000 gallons of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. The spill began on April 20th and it still is not contained. How is the wildlife surviving? This is an outrageous disturbance on the natural world that will have negative consequences for a very long time and we cannot erase it anytime soon. This event should prompt us to look at the bigger picture of what America’s oil consumption is doing to the natural ecosystems; it affects the local area and the entire planet as air pollution is being created by the slick and it rises into the earth’s wind currents.

    Our desire for fuel is now affecting many lives of humans. As we “destroy the sources of our sustenance,” as Madronna Holden suggests in the article, the cycle of impacts has begun. There is a moratorium on fishing in the area which will economically impact the lives of fisherman and in turn there will be less seafood available for the world to eat. Clean up involves rescuing animals and removing the oil but it is likely that their life cycle has been interrupted if not stopped which means less animals in the future.

    I think humans should take the natural processes into consideration when developing any uncultivated environment. I overheard a man in a store last week talk about a new football team coming to his area; he mentioned that they waived the environmental requirements to develop the area quickly. I was appalled that people don’t really understand the concept behind the National Environmental Policy Act; it was instituted to create a check and balance system to avoid or mitigate any environmental issues. But I guess the important thing is we will have the football team!!

    • The oil spill is a great tragedy and, we can hope, a wake up call. I think you may find a ray of hope in the Kid Safe Chemicals Act now in Congressional Committee.
      What I find worst about this spill is that the company was exempted from providing a plan to handle precisely this type of emergency by the regulatory agency that licensed it.

  77. Talk about utter unmitigated arrogance, James Watson proclaiming “if scientists don’t play God, who will?” Where does he get the idea that scientific achievement and self knowledge is not granted by God in the first place.

    I would say that there is more than just a disjunction at work here.

    I liked the wizened grandmothers answer to these so called experiments and studies. “We knew it probably would be true.” Some of these scientific experiments seem to be totally stupid and unnecessary. It seems that science would have better things to do with their time and money than to try and develop a theory for everything. Somethings are not capable of being explained and should not be explained.

    • And I think many of us “knew that would be true” as well, Jeff. Thanks for your comment. Remembering the source of our knowledge is an important point in your statement about playing God– just as remembering that we depend on natural resources for our technological “fixes” of nature!
      Great points.

  78. It is looking like a greater and greater possibility that we will consume ourselves right off the planet if we keep consuming the way we are – we recently counted up the iPods in our little family and came up with a total of 7…that’s 2.33 iPods per person!

    What a great line: “We knew whites had arrived when we woke up one morning and the river was moved.” And now we have the Chinese taking over the number one spot for energy consumption, nothing like having partners in crime.

    You do have to hand it to eBay though, they provide one way for us to get rid of all our iPods and return some sanity to our lives!

    Seriously, the other bad part about the developer in this essay is that should there be a landslide with homes and property lost, the developer will be long gone and the homeowners and their insurance companies will be left holding the bag.

    • That is the way the “one night stand” approach to wealth-making works. Good points, Mark. Let’s hope that being conscious of these things allows us to change them– including the modeling we are doing for those in other parts of the world playing catch up with us.
      And my understanding is that the Chinese are on our tails, but not there yet– especially if you count per person usage. We still consume an enormous amount for the the five per cent of the world’s population we are.

  79. “Change is not the same thing as disturbance–and certainly not the same thing as obliteration.” This is quite a sad story and sadly it can be summed up to being about modern man simply turning the earth into property, just to make some money.

    My favorite section of this article actually was when the molding of the land was compared to that of medical practices such as plastic surgery. I always have been a person that doesn’t really think it is necessary to have things such as plastic surgery, because we destroy what is unique about our bodies. Today, as we speak we are doing the same things by being naive and thinking we can simply change nature with no consequences.

    Since the use of the coast was really described as a tool almost, that humans can use to make money, it reminded me of the Blue Flag program some. The Blue Flag Program really just promotes the cleaning of beaches, marinas, and coastal areas and managing the areas in a way that isn’t just for human good. For instance, trash must be cleaned from the areas, they must educate people on the local ecosystem, development projects are limited, and most interesting natural debris such as algae must be left on the area. To me this program wouldn’t be very successful in parts of the US because it promotes more of an indigenous approach where you simply learn to deal with things the environment brings you.

    • I hadn’t heard of the Blue Flag program, Christopher, thanks for sharing info on it here. Perhaps we will come to realize that in an interdependent system (which the natural world is), doing things only for ourselves is self-destructive–and doing things with benefits beyond immediate gratification for individuals benefits those individuals in the long run as well.
      And looking at the Blue Flag website, is it just me or did I notice that the US is conspicuously missing from participants?

  80. I really identified with this article. When you change the landscape too much, you lose the qualities that made it beautiful in the first place (you don’t need lush, green lawns in Vegas!) This can be on a large scale, like damming a river to create a reservior, or a small scale, like introducing plants and animals that crowd out the native ones.
    I actually didn’t know that places on the Oregon coast have levies. I’ve seen the beachfront houses on stilts, and although I wouldn’t want to live in one of those houses, they seem like a solution that acknowledges that a new resident has to adapt to the existing landscape.

    • We not only don’t need lawns in the southwest, this type of home landscaping is a major reason that we have been drawing down the water tables in this area since the 1950s. Native peoples of the Southwest used to be able to do dryland farming working with periodic rainfall and that water table. I was thinking of the Washington coast in terms of levies; Oregon has a good deal of public beach lands, so we are better off in this respect. Though some harbors (like Reedsport and Florence) have extensive levies. Thanks for your comment, Tivey.

  81. I really like how you describe how humans are changing the natural world in order make their life’s easier. It is so true that whites would much rather go through the mountain than around it. I don’t think people will ever stop building houses on slops because there will always be a person out there who thinks they can beat nature and there will always be someone else who will buy it.

    Just like the beach front houses, people think that they can beat the ocean and build things that will stop the ocean from taking out houses. When people really need to see that these only work for a few years until the ocean really does over power humans. I always like going to the coast and seeing all the houses and all i can think is how much longer until they fall into the ocean.

    • Thanks for your kind feedback, Ayla. These short term attempts to control the natural world for our benefit have never worked so far. Unfortunately, we have an economic system which rewards people for these types of practices- which cause others to get hurt.

    • I am a civil engineering student and what we have learned does show us how we can manipulate nature to work how we want it to. I actually did a slope statbility project this past year. The project called for us to design a retaining wall for a sliding slope. This class has opened my eyes to the other side of thinking.

      • Thanks for sharing this, Brandon. Nothing wrong with stabilizing a slope IF there is ample reason to do so and it is not, for instance, on a clay soil in an earthquake zone–and perhaps we might find a suitable place to build that take less monkeying with natural contours of the land.

  82. This essay is just another example of many about how humans today don’t think about the long term affects of what they produce or build. The notion that we can change nature is absurd. We need to stop thinking about how we can change nature, but instead how can we be apart of nature. A huge example that pops into my head is New Orleans. What happened when hurricane katrina hit was horrible. But it is just like the example of the engineer trying to build the homes where landslides occur. I mean serioulsy, your city is a hundred feet below sea level, you have to have massive levees in place so your city doesn’t constantly flood. What did you think was going to happen in the future? The builders weren’t thinking about the future, all they saw was land, and therefore money.

    • You make some really great points. Katrina is a perfect example to this essay. What do people expect living so close to sea level, their house should have been built for flood damage from the beginning. It should not take huge natural disasters to get our butts in gear.

    • There is trouble beyond the short term dollar signs whenever developers see things in the terms you describe. It is my sense we need to stop rewarding developers of this type with profit. Thanks for your comment.

  83. I found this essay very interesting. It is very obvious that humans are still not learning from past disaster and mistakes. This is like building a house on the top of an active volcano. Although different in many ways, the logic behind it is the same. Burn your hand once, my fault , burn it twice your fault. If humans continue to not think about the obvious long term affects of living in a dangerous spot, then they deserve the outcome that nature decides to provide them.

    • Humans of which culture, Jessica? Do you seeing learning curves in other situations? What about our worldview might inhibit our learning curve? Thanks for your comment.

  84. I find it interesting how again and again these online essay seem to resonate with something related to my new career in civil engineering. It shouldn’t surprise me considering that while I was working through my program I continually heard how we as civil engineers would be stepping into a new role as helping be the shepherds of new environmentally conscious societies. I enjoyed this essay because of how much it reflects the teachings we were still receiving in school. Even though we were being told it would be our responsibility to make choices that considered more than just the bottom line, we were still learning from a body of knowledge that approaches finding solutions within any problem set and typically not being satisfied until a solution is reached. For example, and related to this essay, the placement of homes in the Eugene area as described would be extremely difficult, but with unchallenged solutions being applied it is very likely such a feat could be accomplished. I notice a struggle (in engineering) beginning now that we are becoming more environmentally conscious. I see the struggle relating to the fact that our solutions typically rely upon building from a pre-established framework which is within the scope of our understanding. However, our scope is still extremely narrow and can therefore only accommodate beginning from what this essay calls the blank slate.

    • Thanks for sharing this important perspective from a green civil engineer-to-be, Mathew. Your last point is especially well taken: imagine the creative energy we might release if our engineering started instead with a partnership approach that recognized and honored the nature of the landscape instead of some zero point.

  85. It is interesting that we as a people do not seem to learn lessons from the past. This developer is just one more cog in the wheel of blind greed and desire. How many times do we hear about homes burning in So. California, Homes flooded in the midwest etc and then to have our government step in and help people rebuit in the exact same places where the homes were destroyed in the first place. The idea that there is no value in land until it is developed is what has created so many of the problems of today

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response, Deborah. I like the way you put it in terms of problems with the “idea that there is no value in land until it is developed”. Great point.

    • I lived in San Diego for about two years, and I remembered feeling simply appalled when the media interviewed people whose houses had burned in the fires that year (2007)–some of those people had had their houses burn two or three times previously, and still they planned to rebuild, yet again, in the exact same spot!!! It just seems kind of suicidal to me…

      I agree that we need to redefine what we consider as ‘valuable’. There have been several articles describing the numerous benefits we gain from ‘undeveloped’ land, in both health and economic terms, including, for example, the comparative costs of allowing the land to filter water rather than relying solely on expensive (and ill-maintained) man-made systems–there’s a decrease in cost and an increase in efficiency by utilizing the former option. That’s in addition to the mental health effects that ‘undeveloped’ land offers (i.e. lower rates of depression or higher self-esteem).

    • I agree, but greed is enough to make people turn a blind eye. I’m not of the opinion that many of these developers DON’T in fact know what they’re doing. They probably do, and they probably understand the long term consequences of turning a hillside into a string of houses, they just simply don’t care because they have a plan for immediate personal gain that for them far outweighs the impact it will have on everyone and everything else in the long run.

      • Thoughtful point, Mac. In the instance in this essay, it seems developers did indeed know what they were doing–and getting it approved by the planning commission seemed to be like a kind of game to them.

    • you’re right in saying that the idea that there’s no value in land until it’s developed is what has created so many problems. People think that development and materialism are the key to success and happiness when in reality- especially looking at todays economic issues and downfalls- they tend to lead to disaster and demise (of course not always but when its overdone it does). there are so many “new” developments now that are sitting empty yet builders keep building. they continue to destroy land to create homes and buildings that arent even being used. it just doesn’t make sense. rather than wasting the time, money and energy to build unneeded and unwanted structures the people should be focusing on building homes or shelters in safe places for the people who lost their homes in the floods or other disasters. instead of building in the same spots- these builders with the need to build something should be helping to find better and safer places for those that need homes. development should be done out of need not greed.

      • I think we can back up one step in the analysis about development leading to happiness, Ely– I think some (too many?) feel that if they “score” big in a development scheme by multiplying their investment, they will achieve personal satisfaction.
        Great point about building in safe (naturally appropriate?) places, Ely. With non0toxic materials and energy efficiency would not hurt, either.

  86. “To this developer it did not matter how little he knew about the land he sought to develop—since he saw it as a blank slate on which he could carry out whatever designs he had for it.”

    This attitude seems to correspond to how we may treat other people, as well as the land. Historically (and even currently), dominator societies have sought to ‘develop’ other societies in line with their ideals of ‘progress’, treating different cultures as if they have no history or achievements of their own. Such dominators don’t even bother trying to understand the other culture before dismissing it as inferior, and thus in need of replacement; since it can’t be recognized by the standards of the dominator’s own, it supposedly has no culture and is open to having one imposed on it. (And then acts surprised when open rebellion occurs.)

    This developer’s attitude also makes me think of how Native Americans were pushed off their lands–since they didn’t ‘develop’ the land, they had no need of it and could be removed to make room for Europeans who knew how to exploit it fully. A rationale used often in many places in the course of history to justify taking the land of indigenous peoples. These invaders then proceeded to destroy the natural environment, poisoning air, land, and water.

    It’s clear to me that how we treat other people is related to how we treat the environment, whether for good or ill.

    • You make an important observation about treating peoples in a parallel way to “erasing nature”, Crystal–assuming the license to remake other cultures in terms of undefined “progress”, ignoring the reality of those they find, and certainly, what they can learn from them. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. The fact that we treat other peoples in the same way we treat the environment is a hopeful point, since changing one of these means changing the other to more of a partnership mode.

    • This is certainly true on a global scale. Globalization is really just a form of colonization. Many policymakers and corporations try and justify their development by saying it’s for economic and social development. How arrogant this attitude is in believing our Western society is superior to others!

      • Unfortunately, this is certainly true of globalization today, Breannon. I like Shiva’s idea that true development would globalize democracy and local self-determination instead.

  87. What I see wrong with this desire to change nature is the belief that there is some sort of standard we are trying to achieve. Western civilization seems to have created this “one size fits all” notion that rejects diversity. The result is the use of technology to achieve cultural homogenization. Many people end up feel dissatisfied or inadequate because they don’t fit this American ideal. Whether it’s changing the land around us or changing our bodies, people rarely get to the point of satiation (equally present in our Western views of consumption i.e. more is better). I was shocked to here a pop song recently on the radio with the words “I want to be a billionaire”. Apparently being a millionaire is not even enough! Learning the concept of satiation from the time we are young could prove beneficial for a multitude of things including our material consumption and health (i.e. learning satiation in eating).

    • Hi Breannon, excellent perspective on homogenization here. This brings up the central issue of who is responsible for determining the standard other than the natural (and naturally diverse) one.
      The current standard is an addictive image-based one (I have a post going up about this in the next few days)–which urges us never to stop at enough–hard on both individual persons and the environment. Thanks for your comment.

  88. This article really struck home on many levels. Having been involved with construction most of my life but formally for the last 22 years I have often been in dialogue with many builders and developers about this very topic.
    I often struggled to find the words and reasoning to get past the concept of “dead land”, that was there for the “taking”. I would grind my teeth in frustration and a sense of impotence in my inability to get the whole concept of stewardship across to these men and, sometimes, women. As I am back in Grad school, I have been exploring the academic avenues of environmental ethics and spiritual ecology within classes , lectures and the great body of books I have access to now. Through ecological anthropology and environmental ethics and this class on ecofeminism, I am able to develop a language beyond “it’s wrong and immoral” and creating a framework from which to address planners, builders and developers such as the one in Eugene. And I am so very grateful.
    Living on Whidbey Island for 16 years I saw how the developers and builders ignored with great arrogance(and lining of building official pockets) the movements of the ocean shore. Now the sea walls are failing to protect houses built on the sand spits! To me this is the epitome of treating the land and the native wisdom around where habitats are built as “ so much chalk dust whose writing didn’t have to be read before it was erased”!

    • Thanks for sharing your personal experiences– and your struggle to do things differently in an industry that didn’t have t he vocabulary to share your ethical (not to mention, pragmatic– as evidenced by the ineffectual seawall) concerns, Maureen. I appreciate your persistence to working to find something better–and better ways to have the conversation over development. I do think that if we didn’t have a “grab and go” worldview– and held such developers to the responsibility for the results of their developments for say, thirty or forty years (or as long as their buildings stood), it might chance things– if and only if the developers weren’t going out of business so quickly themselves. Maybe taking out a long term insurance bond, a one neighborhood economist suggested in the case of the developer in this essay….

  89. “I am not saying that we should never change the natural world: we change it with every breath we take. But change is not the same thing as disturbance–and certainly not the same thing as obliteration. We might choose to partner with the life we find on the land, to design our human actions so that, as innovative architect William McDonough has put it, the creatures of nature recognize us as family when they look upon the things we do.”

    ^That especially is a great statement and one that summarizes the essence of your article.

    It would be great if we could collectively adhere to a more natural principle of living with instead of living against nature. Unfortunately, self survival tends to be the strongest instinct of many species, including our own. Unless we humans recognize that individual survival also demands long term goals that benefit the whole (as opposed to short term goals, such as making money to benefit the individual) we will hasten both our own, individual demise and the demise of everyone and everything else around us.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Mac. I very much like your idea of living with rather than against nature. This does indeed demand long term goals (and assessments of our past mistakes to avoid them in the future). Time to understand, as well, that (as you indicate) our survival is dependent on that of others.

  90. Thanks for your comment, Lizzy. Can you say a bit more about regulatory agencies “enforcing non-compliance”? I appreciate your thoughtfulness and would like very much to see some concrete examples.
    Thoughtful point concerning the change you feel we need.

  91. In the example of plastic surgery that is given in the article, we can cut and reshape so much until we have completely transformed the image until you don’t recognize it any longer and the original image is erased and cannot be restored. I think this is the same as the planet we live on. The damage done is irreplaceable and this planet cannot take much more cutting or pasting without phasing out all existence.

    • All too true, Tiny. Time we recognized that fact– not to mention, honored the beauty and wonder of the natural world as it was given to us.

    • Well said, Tina. We not only cut and reshape our planet, but we use and abuse all of its natural resources without a second thought. What is it about our society that drives this constant need to overdue everything. As you stated, we do this to ourselves and our planet, but enough is never enough. We just keep changing and abusing with no end in sight. I guess the end will be when Earth can no longer support life.

  92. Even when people think they have outwitted nature with clever applications meant to temporarily stabilize a hillside prior to development, some things are beyond their control, regardless of the preparation. This is the essence of nature. Often, when development like this is approved both temporary and permanent stabilization of the hillside needs to occur. The temporary measures are geared towards being proactive in water quality protection, erosion control, and sediment control while being environmentally minded at the same time.

    Some of the temporary erosion control techniques are not all harmless, and contain polymers such as acrylimide in the hydro seed mixtures for example. This is a man made / developed chemical process and one application may not withstand anything more than one rain event. In this instance, if it rains before the seeds root, the mixture has the potential of impacting everything down hill along with the sand and soil it was not able to restrain. Sediment along with soil and sands cause water quality issues, impact the oxygen levels and ph balance, and potentially harming fish populations and other aquatic species. This can then impact the animals and humans that rely on the watershed, creeks and tributaries that are below this hillside development.

    With positive intentions and a construction crew that is proactive, there is still an opportunity to impact animals, people and the local environment in a negative manner. Erosion of sand, soil hydro seed and sediment could have long term effects on local streams, tributaries and receiving waters as well as the resident and pelagic fish populations that come up river to spawn. Other aquatic species are also impacted and so ones ability to rely on the land is impacted. And the land becomes sick, as it is no longer balanced, and those who once relied on it are now relying on trucked in or flown in farm raised fish and crops and live somewhere else because of the erosion and sedimentation in the local streams and creeks.
    Likewise, the view of what is an acceptable female physic has changed dramatically over the years and since the 1950’s alone, has changed immensely. We are all led to feel as if there is something wrong with us when we don’t fit that mold with predefined measurements and specifications. And people will change their body to make them feel better and it works in some ways, because they actually felt bad about themselves in the first place.

    These are the same things, taking a natural form and introducing something manufactured, out of place, different and not complimentary is very much the same in both instances because once you do it, you cannot change it back. You can attempt to restore, but that will not result in the original state. And both impact people beyond the doer.

    • Thanks for adding some details about the engineering techniques in slope stabilization for the sake of development, Lizzy. This is obviously something about which you have some personal knowledge. I am thinking of all the slides that occur on the downslope of clear cut logging as well: the roads between the Willamette Valley and the coast have been closed numerous times by mudslides with this cause–and houses have been wiped out by these as well.
      “Acceptable” female physique– quite an adjective if an appropriate one in the context of media ads– deciding which bodies nature gave us are “acceptable” is giving ourselves a rare–and strange– power not only over the natural world, but over the bodies of others. Restoring nature’s gifts after they have been ravaged is certainly a more difficult (sometimes impossible) process than caring for them in the first place.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  93. I agree completely with your assessment of the word “lonely” in regards to modern man. What a sad state of affairs we are in when we look at the world and only see what can be, rather than what is. We tend to look upon the world and see only raw building sites and what if scenario’s.

    I feel we should be looking upon the world with amazement and awe. This planet is amazing and the natural beauty needs to be protected in its pristine state, rather than molded to fit into some idea of development by man.

    It is sad that we have the lost the ways of the indigenous people, because they treasured the natural resources they utilized and knew their true value. These people could teach us so much about our planet and ourselves.

    • Hi Jamie, thanks for your comment about our lonely vision of what could be rather what is. I agree with your point about looking at our world with amazement and awe instead.
      Indigenous peoples might indeed teach us much–and so might our relationship to the life around us. Sayed Husaini concluded his comment on the post here about science never knowing everything with this lovely Japanese proverb: “Experience the beauties of nature, and in doing so, learn about yourself.”

  94. It seems that this notion of Western civilizations non-holistic approach, to nature, continues to re-emerge whenever we are contrasting it to indigenous People’s values. It’s obvious that modern culture tries not to take into account the shared significance we humans have with our environment. This makes me feel like our so-called modern culture supports a belief that people, places and things are held victims by their natural state and therefore should be changed to represent growth or development? Again, unless we change our perception of position within nature we will continue to feel a sense of loss or not belonging.

    • Interesting phrase: being “held victim” by nature: how about being given life by nature instead? Thoughtful point about the importance of the sense belonging, Ryan.

    • I always think it would be wonderful to have the best of both worlds, the natural and the technological. Do you think that is possible. If only we could just come to more of a balance. I recently watched that movie “Grown Ups.” and it reminded me of your post. The children in that movie are victims of technology, cell phones, iPads, internet and have nearly no appreciation for nature. If only that could change!

    • I couldn’t agree with more with your last sentence. This sense of not belonging couldn’t be more apparent than through the developers eyes. He is trying to build houses on a dangerous hill to bring his customers more into nature. However, what he is doing, is putting them into a very dangerous situation with no real safety or belonging with nature.

    • All of the topics we discuss, as you stated, are compared to the ways of indigenous societies. Although, I do not think this is a completely fair to judge our present days society’s actions. Hundreds of years separate us from them and I feel it is an unrealistic expectation to practice all the same methods when it comes to environment and many other topics. There are so many factors that have changed that make it almost impossible to have as little of an impact on the environment as indigenous people did and still do. For example, the growing size of our population greatly affects how we grow food and build cities. It is a realistic and commendable effort to look to indigenous societies for inspiration and ideas but not realistic to try and mimic their practices identically.

      • It is obvious that we cannot return to the past, Emily. Can you see, however, how a change in worldview might be in order. Dean Bavington makes this point, for instance, with respect to contemporary cod fisheries (see “standing in front of a speeding train” here).
        Thanks for your comment.

  95. I visited the Good Jobs First link when I finished reading your article. Calling what companies and the government is doing regarding jobs and growth blackmail is fitting. We, and our European friends and people and governments all over the world are told that if they don’t let corporations do what ever corporations want, there will be no jobs and no money. This blackmail is used to keep the poor poor and make the rich richer. I was happy to see Good Jobs First informing people of a new way, with sustainable growth, and keeping an eye on harmful government subsidies.

    • Some of these “perverse subsidies” should never be tolerated in a society that calls itself a democracy, Michele. I too am very happy there are folks like those at Good Jobs First out there. And I thought I would pass on a site that outlines problematic agricultural subsidies along the same line http://farm.ewg.org/region (courtesy of Maureen Belle).
      Thanks for your comment.

  96. “We are nature as surely as is the land we remake–no matter whether we see this for good or ill. But if our current environmental crises teach us anything it is that when we attempt erase nature what we really succeed at is erasing ourselves. It is a bald fact that if we destroy the sources of our sustenance, we are going out with them.”

    I completely agree with this, Professor Holden. My husband and I were driving back from the Marine Corps Birthday Ball this weekend and saw a huge dam on this river on our way. Before we reached the dam, I noticed how low the river area was, some of it was completely dried up. I commented on how, if this was caused by a dam, it was a horrible thing as dams are terrible mechanisms of human control. My husband didn’t understand what I meant (I’m also taking a geology class this term that has thoroughly educated me on the dangerous nature of human control over our environment, including dam construction). We went over these issues and I think he understood my position, but the fact that dams are the “status quo”, as well as clear-cutting our forests, and mass amounts of hunting for sport makes me fear for humankind. Hunting for sport does nothing, except create convenience for humankind, and contribute to ruthless killing. Hunting for food is a completely different animal. I am talking about those that hunt for that “six point rack on my wall” and care not of the food from the animal, but for the act of killing and hunting. I saw a clip on the news the other day talking about how deer are becoming a huge traffic hazard and 200 people a year are killed in automobile accidents involving deer. The segment basically indicated that we need to take action AGAINST THE DEER to preserve our humankind’s safety.

    My jaw dropped at the notion of deer being overpopulated. This newscast is addressing a species that tops over 7 BILLION! Who is overpopulated again? It certainly is not the damn deer. But, again, we must control nature for our convenience and sports hunters will be free to go and kill mass amounts of these deer to bring down the population, all in the name of safety for the people. Then we’ll complain when there are cougars in our backyards, or killing our chickens. Don’t we understand that this is a careful balance and that throwing these things out of alignment for our convenience is just further screwing things up? It’s a chain affect, and people need to stop thinking they can just change something to fix it. Whatever happened to acceptance and bending with things, instead of just trampling over it and overtaking it?

    • Hi Crystal, your last statement reminded me of the idea that one measure of an individual’s true biological (as opposed to chronological) age can be determined by their flexibility.
      I agree that we need to put things in balance and perspective– so many lives were part of the ecosystems that sustain us for long before we got here. We need to honor them (and adapt to them rather than trying to adapt them to us) if we want them to continue sustaining us.

  97. I really appreciated how this article related changing nature to changing a woman’s body with plastic surgery. It really couldn’t be more true to the same concept. My dad is a builder, and he just built a property on sliding land. After selling the property, he explained to the buyers that in 10-15 years it will slide AGAIN, and need to be remodeled again. That is likely the same problem the builder in this article would encounter, nature is not a force to be reckoned with. And the same concept applies to a woman’s body, yes you can do a temporary fix, but it will not last forever, eventually those perky implants will begin to sag!

    • Thoughtful response, Sarah–and I guess this may keep the builders in business. Even though it is dangerous for those who live in these houses.
      Those implants will not only begin to sag–but in the case of particular breast implants are liable to breakage and infection.

  98. While I agree that some change is entirely necessary, this developer was clearly one of the most ignorant of people. The number of rains coupled with the sloped ground and soil type are simply not a good idea. The worst part of this whole situation, is that even though people will probably know in advance of the ground slides, they will probably still buy the houses, thus starting the same cycle over again on another piece of dangerous ground that some developer says that he can manipulate into whatever he wants.

  99. In the the history of human population there undoubtedly has been a significant amount of destruction to our surrounding environment. Although, on a happier note, urban forestry is becoming more and more focused on environmental landscaping. Something to remember is that our cities are not all concrete and steel. Our base is the earth and it still lives in the midst of busy city streets. The planting of trees in our metropolitan areas have immense benefits, such as containing storm water runoff, reducing the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere, improving air quality, reducing crime in neighborhoods, and just making people generally happier. I don’t think our planet is doomed because of the way our cities have been built up in the past. The government also plays a big role in protecting and creating forested areas in our cities, as expressed in the 1978 cooperative forestry act and the 1990 farm bill. Current thinking about the relationship between people and trees in our cities is only becoming more sustainable.

  100. It bugs me to no end when someone wants to build something on land that they know nothing about. The person thinks that by building whatever they are building they are making the land a better place. People need to stop and realize the damage they are doing when they do no do research while building a building. If you just erect a tower on a random piece of land one could disturb nature. I could not live with myself if I destroyed land that was special to a certain people or even to the whole wrld because I believe I could make it better.

  101. The assertation that “we are nature as surely as is the land we remake” is particularly interesting. It’s a very important yet, it seems (in my limited experience?), often overlooked connection – the reshaping of natural landscapes and the reshaping of our bodies – women’s bodies in particular. It’s a very dangerous promise that corporate America makes to us – that we can alter any physical landscape we see fit to change for the pleasure of other humans – whether it be our breasts, the size of our hips, or flood-prone grounds upon which an entrepreneur would like to build property. This relates well to other essays on Our Earth/Ourselves which have discussed the ease with which we can abuse the physical world – particularly the land we live on – because, coming from “pioneer” ascentors and therefore a pioneer’s mindset – we do not plan on actually living on such land, but rather, to cultivate it in a way that values short term viability and appearances in order to make a profit. We never truly value or live on that land – much less learn its ways or grow to fully understand and appreciate it. Is this what women are doing when we adopt this mindset (which is so difficult to avoid, considering the culture in which we’re raised!) and change our own personal, physical landscapes – our bodies? Do we often have the same relationships with our bodies – our most intimate physical connection to nature – as we do with the land we live on; never truly considering it home or a permanent place of dwelling, never accepting the natural changes and cycles that are part of any physical entity, and always believing that it can be changed to please the next ‘buyer’ (boyfriend, horizontally hostile peer group) or inhabitant? (The underlying sexual themes of that last word are definitely intentional, but I’ll leave it at that for the sake of brevity!)

    • Astute point about the fact that many of us never really living on (or with?) the land, just as we never really live in our own bodies: a powerful double alienation that leaves us not only susceptible to manipulation but to over-consumption in the hunger this imparts.
      I very much like the way you put these metaphors together here– as in “buyers”. Thanks for a comment that gives much to think about, Lauren.

  102. I agree with the author that change is not the same thing as disturbance and obliteration. In my opinion, the word change means better. I often change my behavior or my work when I know that it is for the better. In land development, change is another story. It is more about monetary issue than anything. As long as the developer know that the land will make a lot of money, he will develop whatever he wants, despite the impacts on local nature and people. For example, Indonesia with the help of World Bank has built a new dam in a local area (sorry, I forgot the name of that area). The government argued that the dam will reduce poverty and boost up the local economy. In fact, new dam causes local people more trouble than benefit. In local tradition, farmers rent land from landlord; and they pay the rent at the end of the year. Also, the harvest before the dam was built was enough to pay the rent and to survive. Everything changed since the dam was built. Now farmers have to pay the land rent at the beginning of the year, and the rent is higher. Moreover, most of their harvest is for export. As a result, local famers found their lives harder though the harvest increases a lot. Local farmers change their life style from self-reliance to rely on the world economy. In this case, I think change is a disturbance. I think, sometimes, the “old way” is better than the new one.

    • Thanks for elaborating on the important distinction between change and disturbance or obliteration, Vu. Unfortunately, your example of the dam is not the only one where “development” was actually “mal-development”, as Vandana Shiva puts it. Such things as whether local crops are being consumed locally or going for export– or when and how much land rent is paid are key things to take into consideration before embarking on a development project. In some cases, developers just overlook that fact that “one size fits all” does not necessarily work for the benefit of local populations–and in some case, they overlook this because there is profit to be made by others somewhere along the line.

    • Vu,
      Your example of dams being destructive, not only to the environment, but to people as well, is similar to the situation with bottled water companies. Tons of money is made each year by bottled water companies, yet they do so much harm to the environment and local communities. The process goes something like this: certain areas are targeted by water companies and the idea of making money is presented. To many of these communities, the prospect of additional funds is welcomed because they may not have other avenues to make money. The communities are oftentimes very small and may experience poverty, so resistance is very small at first. The water company picks a spot along a river and begins pumping water out of the river by the gallon. Hundreds of thousands of gallons will be pumped out and the people within the community start seeing the effects of it. People who live close to the river might see the river reduce in size, which has all types of effects on the animals and plants which depend on it. Fish are especially affected. The people, once they’ve realized how the river is changing, might try to stop the water company from continuing, but it’s often too late. So many things are done in the name of profit and even when disastrous effects are known, they actions continue.

  103. The quote by Richard Cultee: “We knew whites had arrived when we woke up one morning and the river was moved” is a good description of Western culture in general. Westerners have a tendency to not only change their environment to fit their own needs, but they feel they are entitled to do so. This idea that one group of people and their wants are more important than all other people, animals, plants, etc. is so self-centered and destructive. People used to have a mutual appreciation for each other and also an appreciation for their environment, which can be seen in the cultural beliefs of Native Americans and others, so where did we go wrong? Since this is a Western belief, it must have come from Western culture. I had a conversation once with a professor who responded to a comment I made about people learning to preserve and appreciate all cultures, and live peacefully with one another by saying it was “passé” and that the reality of today is that there are three cultures vying to be number one. While that may be the reality now, it doesn’t have to be and there are other ways of being. We could and many people believe we must return to a more egalitarian type of society in order to survive.

    • I think the last essay you just commented on, with respect to the Bangladesh women’s productive output and care for their land indicates that there are vital alternatives we have for the better. And even if there were not so many of these around the globe (check out the sites linked here on indigenous knowledges and agriculture), the historical sense that we have done and might well again do better with respect to others gives us hope about our future possibilities. Whoever told you all else but these three “top” cultures is passe needs more information about the contemporary as well as the historical world. Good for you in expressing your personal perspectives based on such information. I find it sad that those who are supposed to be the most knowledgeable are sometimes missing key parts of the puzzle. Just keep thinking for yourself!

  104. As I read this article I couldn’t help but think of my old home- Kauai. On the east shore there was a beautiful open space across from a shopping center. It allowed for a great view of the ocean and it gave the little town a sense of openness- it made it feel bigger and less crowded. Sure enough, a group of wealthy mainlanders came in and decided to build some condos. The condos went up and all of a sudden the town felt like it was so congested, the view was gone and the local people were not happy. I understand that development can help a community prosper by opening up opportunities but when does it become too much? I think its when the land and the people’s ways become compromised for the benefit of a few. I think its important to remember that nature came first and we are blessed to be able to share in her beauty. Humans have taken advantage of the gifts nature has given us and have become greedy. Money has become such an important aspect of life for so many that everything else has been set aside- including family values, the natural world and quality of life. On Kauai, the new condos may bring a little money to the community but in reality, the local people don’t benefit- they can’t afford those condos. Wealthy mainlanders use the condos a few times a year and much of the year they sit empty- now who is that helping? The view is gone, the land has been destroyed and the people are unhappy- but the builders have made a pretty profit.

    I really like the comment that was made about the loneliness: I cannot imagine a more lonely existence than that of the man who finds the world empty of everything but his vision for remaking it. I completely agree with this statement. Anyone who cannot enjoy the world for what it is and needs to have all of the materialism and “fakeness” to be happy is truly lonely and sad.

    • Thanks for sharing this pointed personal story, Ely. All too often development does not help local people– as the folks at “good jobs first” have been documenting for some time now.
      I am currently reading Uprising for the Earth–which just came out. The author postulates that it would be a sad fact indeed if the only thing upon which Western individuals could readily ally themselves was their shared loneliness.

  105. This article reinstates that our intelligence may be our worst enemy. Although, mankind has invented an immense amount of technologies and systems that have improved the well being of humans, man kind’s attitude towards Mother Nature may lead us to absolute destruction. The fear of something as great as Mother Nature should not be taken lightly but has decreased with every invention we create. The indigenous people lived with a fear for Mother Nature, they didn’t feel superior to nature, and instead they respected nature, and were obedient to the ways of nature, accepting her cycles and accommodating to nature. Now, we are trying to change NATURE so we don’t have to interrupt our cycles. It may seem harsh but really a great word to describe our recent generations in correspondence with nature is lazy. When I think of the ways we are damaging our environment and then really deconstruct the reasoning as to why we are doing these things, it is because we are lazy. It seems the main goal is to find the fastest, most efficient way in order to accomplish a task successfully. We are now taking advantage of a system that was created to work in our favor, a system that was designed to take care of us, taking advantage of a gift that was given to us and damaging it for our selfish pleasures.

    • I hope our intelligence is not becoming our worst enemy, Courtney– though it has the potential for doing so if we are too full of ourselves in our arrogance and our blindness to the ways in which we are interdependent on the natural world and on one another.
      Intelligence does us little good if we are blind to the information given us by the consequences of our own actions.
      Ecological systems were designed (over all those millions of years) not only to take care of us: all living things within them were designed to take care of one another.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  106. When some men look at this world they see something they can tame and dominate, when they look at women the same men see the same things. Without logic they believe in their ability to crate, when in fact thats not the way the word works nothing in this world can be oppressed or dominated forever no can men create life. I think its when someone forgets the simple facts they forget how it applies to the rest of the world.

    • There has been much damage done, Arnulfo, as you point out, in forgetting the “simple fact” that no one can dominate another forever (be the other humans or nature) and no men can create life.
      Thanks for sharing the thoughtful perspectives.

  107. This is a sad concept that is seen daily in American life, if we don’t like the way something is we can always change it. Women should all want to be models and landscapes should all be like beautiful parks. I see an example of this in marriage these days. With the divorce rate at something around 50%, people get married and think that if it doesn’t work out, they can always get a divorce. There is no quick fix with nature, and we should not expect to create something that is not there.

    • Thoughtful point about the links between our lacks of commitment and of acceptance of other lives, human and more than human, Samantha. I don’t think that we can ever belong to place and community without commitment–and without belonging we will never be able to fulfill ourselves by rearranging the world.

    • I agree with you here, and it is seems to be all propaganda to get you to buy something. What is it exactly we are buying into anyway. I don’t want any part of it. I agree with you in that there is no quick fix but forums such as these we are taking part of help to raise the level of awareness for people to begin having conversations about making more conscious and sound choices. We take the information we learn and share here out into the world and it begins a larger and larger conversation and reaches more and more people to be aware.

    • It is divorce that makes me never want to marry. Change is for the better naturally. And you are right, there really isn’t a quick fix. We need to improve over time.

  108. Having lived through numerous tropical storms and hurricanes in Florida, I observed the calamities that development contributed to the overall effect of a storm. Not just the Everglades, but much of the FL peninsula experiences a phenomena known as “sheetflow”, where the rainfall from a storm takes days to gradually flow towards the Gulf or Atlantic. This natural flow has been so chopped up by vast acreages of sugar cane and even more vast construction that many areas now flood that never did before. One town of Estero (yes it means estuary, what a place to put a town) can go weeks with standing water that of course stagnates and encourages mosquitoes which are then sprayed into oblivion. And who knows what kind of long-term damage is being done to humans, flora and fauna from the mosquito spraying. As another commenter wrote, it’s one mess created by fixing another, where will it stop?

    • Hi Reb, thanks for adding to the theme of this essay with your own experience.
      The issue of mosquitoes is an important one to ponder. I found one instance in the Pacific Northwest in which a native man objected to plowing along the Columbia River in the pioneer period, since rain in the plowed trenches provided breeding grounds for mosquitoes–a real problem for native peoples being beset by malaria epidemics.
      Pesticide use is bad enough on dry land, but where it can enter the water table is especially problematic (see Dandelion Wars here for some of the problems involved that we know of–and new one seem to emerge weekly).
      Good point about creating a cycle in which we need to keep fixing the side effects created by our fixing something in the first place. This is what happens with many pharmaceuticals, in which more drugs are prescribed to alleviate side effects from other drugs.
      This is why it seems important that we work within natural cycles to the extent we can: ecosystems have already adjusted themselves over thousands of years; a bit of hubris to think we can change the elements we want and control them.
      Very important observations about the estuaries and sugar cane plantations.

    • I think this gets to another important point because we all seem to think that if a problem pops up from our use of technology or land alteration, we should just invent something else to deal with the issue instead of changing our ways! You mosquito example is just one of nature’s reminders that drastically changing the landscape may achieve a goal in the short term, but the problems will come even if they aren’t immediately evident!

      • Great point, just compiling more “fixes” to fix our original fixes eventually leads to system collapse. I am thinking of the analogy of Windows operating systems that for a decade or so never really fixed a bug: just overwrote it with more and more lines of programming that seems to make things work until the system consisted of hundreds of thousands of lines of programming that no one ever read and cleaned up– as opposed to the open source Linux system (which Macs picked up). As I understand, finally Windows was forced to actually put its (programming) house in order to compete.
        We are going to have to do the same if we don’t want our technologies to collapse under their own wait.

  109. Have we become so far removed from nature we do not consider the limitations of overuse and land development? My first question when I was reading this was how could he ever get a permit to build something like this? I know my dad did a small addition to his house and had to go through so many hoops just to get it approved. Is it because the developer had a lot of money he could buy his way to the permit forgetting the abuse to the land and potential hazards one would face in the future living in it. All in the name of a good view, anything has a price. It seems so many Western worldviews support domination over the natural world and that is why we face all the enviromental problems we do today. I see a shift happening and people are waking up to realize it is not sustainable to live life without awareness. The bottom line is not how much you have in your bank account to have dominion over the natural world, but rather how much your conscious choices bring you peace and joy.

    • This developer did have a lot of money– and it seems that the larger the development, the more lax (ironically) the planning rules are. The good news is that this development was finally nixed by the local city council. Local neighbors spent a huge sum of money to research this in order to make it happen. Seems that the local planning department should have been doing that itself!
      I think it is hopeful indeed to redefine “bottom line” in the ways you indicate-and I agree that the shift you see as people become more conscious is a hopeful one.

  110. This article reminds me of a similar situation in and around Phoenix, AZ with regards to people living on hillsides, mountains, and trying to build higher then their neighbor. Phoenix is a constant battlefield between millionaires who want to live on the urban mountains, and environmentalists who want to maintain the habitat and natural surroundings. It is interesting how new house keep being built on land that was supposedly off limits. I see these houses every year or so when I visit the area, and read about another house being build on the fringes of an imaginary line around the mountain. The over-riding factor seems to be the combination of money and limited laws which can be loop-holed. Our technology allows us to dominate nature, but of course it does not force people to become environmentally sound. The only positive in this whole story is that the ‘blank slate’ as the article mentions eventually will be returned to the earth through time, natural elements, and natural disasters because humans cannot dominate things forever! (of course this doesn’t help this generation from seeing new mansions built on moutains!)

    • This is a sad dynamic in fragile landscape such as this desert, Brad. Phoenix’ many irrigation canals also lead to evaporation of precious water supplies and muggy air– which motivates more air conditioner use.
      My hope is that we will finally find a way to live on the land (and use our wealth, if we have it) that does not contribute to a lose-lose negative feedback circle.

    • Hi Brad,
      You provide a good example from Phoenix, when people try to dominate each-other and/or nature, in the end no one “wins”. It is unfortunate to see how sometimes people with money, seem to get around certain laws. There are some things in life though; that we should never put a price on (our environment and sustainability should be included in that).

      • Ah, another rational perspective, Leah! Taking a close look at the real results of domination, one would think, might back one away from this tactic. And indeed there are things we should never attempt to price.

  111. This article’s discussion on damming of rivers and the impact on river floodplains reminds me of a similar conflict were the Missouri River was dammed with the Garrison Dam, and Lake Sakawea was developed in the Midwest US. Here the federal governement under the force of the Army Corps of Engineer displaced an entire Native American Tribe, by flooding their sacred land. Very little consideration was given to the thousands of years of ties between the local people and the land. They were displaced and the land was filled with water. This story makes for an interesting read for those who are interested in the history of US rivers and environmental conflicts. Here are two links to more information on the effort some 60 years ago:

    http://www.mhanation.com/main/history/history_garrison_dam.html

    http://gf.nd.gov/multimedia/ndoutdoors/issues/2003/jun/docs/garrison-dam.pdf

    • Thanks for sharing this link, David. It is sad to think that this displacement may or may not have been necessary–since a number of dams put in during that period are now being taken out.
      The dams on the Upper Columbia were especially devastating to native tribes there.

    • And this story is interesting for native history as well as for the history of US rivers and environmental conflicts. Have you visited this area yourself or have some other personal connections with this history?

  112. As I mentioned in my comment on the Burning Down the House essay, the city of Galveston raised grade and built a seawall to protect itself after the 1900 hurricane. In the link that follows, there is a story from the Galveston Daily News on the rebuilding of the town after the storm. A couple of brief quotes: Rebuilding is a story “…about people altering their own fates by changing the face of nature,” and “…engineers [were] hired by the city in 1901 to design a means of keeping the gulf in its place.” Rebuilding was “Galveston’s finest hour.”

    The effort and ability to control nature is a great source of pride to the newspaper, and presumably to the citizens: change the face of nature, keep the gulf in its place. This article, by the way, was written in the year 2000, so these attitudes have persisted. The arrogance and shortsightedness of humans is amazing.

    http://www.1900storm.com/rebuilding/index.lasso

    • Thanks for the link to this story and the pointed illustration of the ways in which attitudes have not changed in terms of “keeping the Gulf in its place”. One might muse that the place of the Gulf is elsewhere than behind a seawall.
      Yet it is certainly hard to think otherwise when one’s family has lived in a place, perhaps for generations. Perhaps we will someday think it is as heroic to change our course to suit that of the natural world– and for the sake of succeeding generations as pulling together in the suffering resulting from a human disaster named as a natural one. I would love to see us pull together to rebuild human societies everywhere to prevent such human disasters.

  113. Reading this article, it is hard to believe that someone can be so ignorant (with regard to the Oregon land developer). This notion that he “owns” the land and therefore can mold it or do with it whatever he chooses (without knowing hardly anything about the land) is self-defeating and a stereo-typical Western Worldview. If he would look to understand the land and work with it, opposed to against it (by building houses on a slope known for landslides), I would bet that he would be more satisfied with his “developments” and the land’s foundation that they are built upon.

    • You would think, Leah. What a rational approach. In fact there is a way in which this developer thought he won: through tripling the value of the land he bought on speculation in developing it, and in simply winning the battle with local neighbors– which seemed to be a good part of his motivation.
      Eventually, he did get down to a very different playing field, when the city “condemned” this land so as to make a park of it–and he had to negotiate its sale.

  114. Interesting article. I was definitely taken back by the thought of a builder so careless in knowing his design site. Not only for the reason of how disrespectful his remarks are to those who reside in the area, but for the future dangers that would await theses homes. Last term I took a geosciences course and we studied the dangers of mass movements and landslides; it’s knowledge that contrary to the developers opinion is vital. I understand, and am all for the idea of altering the environment necessary for human survival, but in a way that is respectful and safe. The quote: “I am not saying that we should never change the natural world: we change it with every breath we take. But change is not the same thing as disturbance–and certainly not the same thing as obliteration.” – is very well stated.

    • Thoughtful balance in this response: perhaps it would be a good thing to require all developers to take some such course as the one you had. The problem, though, I think, is not that developers are unaware of such problems, but that they are blinded into ignoring them through the profit motive. I think requiring them to take out an insurance bond to make them responsible for the safety of their houses due to structural oversights for say, ten years after they build them, ought to do much to remedy this.

    • In regards to your thoughts on the disrespectful remarks made by the developer, you probably would not be surprised to hear that unsafe developments are built all the time despite restricting permits. Often times i hear of situations where a building would have should have never even been started, but developers authorized workers to begin the project before the paperwork is finished. At that point most of the time the building is permitted to be finished due to the fact that the city doesn’t want an unfinished building sitting there. Sad.

      • Sad indeed. Thanks for sharing this example: I know of at least one case where the building began before the development was approved– and actually in a way that was not as environmentally friendly as his paperwork promised– with the idea that no one would ask him to tear down a housing development already built!
        Unfortunately, I don’t think this is the first time or the last time for this tactic.

  115. It seems that this developer’s lack of concern for the environment is only one of multiple shortcomings. Building homes where there is potential danger of the houses actually sliding down the hill during an earthquake is flat out neglecting to use your brain. The blank slate idea is one that I have heard many times and feel coincides traditional American thinking. I am also taking a Native American Literature course right now and am learning about many unthinkable things that early settlers did to the natives and their land. They gave zero respect to the current inhabitants of this land and its resources. It’s sad that for so many Americans it’s a normal frame of mind to view this world as a place to completely reconstruct to fit their own selfish needs. Hopefully with more and more people voicing an opposing opinion to this terrible mind set, change can be made for the better!

    • I agree with you that as a culture we feel it is ok to change things to fit our needs. I hope it does not take the world ending for us to relize we are not in control of everything.

    • Funny thing how “flat out neglecting to use your brain” is connected with get rich quick schemes.
      I am with you in the hope that we must both face our real history and stop “reconstructing the world to fit our selfish needs”. Can only be self-defeating in an interdependent world.

  116. It is really fascinating how as a species we feel we can just make things in nature bend to our will. This article does a great job pointing out how people are selfish and inconsiderate of nature, but in the end nature shows us who is boss. It is sometimes hard to believe we share the same air with these people who are blinded by their decisions. The man who decided to put homes on the hill was very undereducated in the importance of forests in the retaining soil by the use of root systems and preventing soil erosion. It really makes we wonder when will we learn that we need to with nature and not against it.

    • Not only do we share the “same air” with this man– but with all the other breathing mammals before and after us.
      Pointed turn of phrase about being “blinded by our decisions”– as if, having made them, we need to attend neither to their results nor to any alternative.

    • Learning to work with nature rather than against it would seem to be one of the major tasks of our current society.

  117. I do not believe that the developer is so much in the wrong because putting houses on hill that are at higher risk of sliding down the hill is something that Americans do all of the time. In fact if you look at home values the farther you go up a hill the more valuable it is. Most city’s have there most expensive houses on hillsides. Look at the Hollywood hills, there are major risks of mudslides and earthquakes that “could” destroy the houses but it has not happened yet. Yes it is a possibility and might happen one day but if a developer wants to take on the risk and is able to sell the houses then I do not see any problems with that.

    • It seems it is important to distinguish between doing something because everyone else (or even a few others) do it and the rightness or wrongness of an action.
      Am I understanding you correctly that you feel that if the developer can sell houses that may be hazardous to their residents and cost the city great sums ( in remedying landslides), he should not be held responsible for his actions? The problem as I see it is that it is not the developer taking the risk– it is those to whom he sells that will bear the brunt of his carelessness.
      What do you think about having him pay an insurance bond that would allow him to back up the houses he sells as safe. After all, we recall cars for safety issues as well even if someone unwittingly buys them.

  118. I agree that before we build something we should understand the land that we are building on and try and work with it instead of just replacing it. I also think that we can use the inventions we have to make the land work to help us, such as using trees for shade so A/C is unnecessary, or creating a house partially underground so that the heat from the earth can help heat your house in winter. I think as Americans we are just choosing the easier option instead of the harder but better option.

    • Sad point that we might choose relatively careless options because we don’t want to do the extra “work” of caring. And good observation about working with natural systems.

    • Kyle-
      In the house I grew up in, we had a basement built underground. It was wonderful my whole family would spend time downstairs when it was too hot to be outside. I preferred it over AC, it wasn’t cold rushes of air, but cool enough to keep us happy. I believe that because of the technology and other innovations that our society creates we feel as if we have to put them to use. Having an old home with a basement doesn’t look as good as a brand new house with the top of the line air conditioner. I think part of the problem lies within our society and our materialistic desires.

  119. It’s truly amazing that a person can be so ignorant about natural processes to think they can alter the land and their not be negative consequences. The developer described at the beginning of the story is a prime example of the disconnect from nature most people have. If that man grew up in the forest, even if he was a logger, he would understand better how natural systems work. However, it is not his fault. I view it as the fault of local and federal governments who are the ones that issue permits to build in places they never properly survey. The developer is not going to care if the houses slide 5 years after he builds. He already has his money. However, the people who bought the houses will care and certainly whoever gets hit with the mud slide down slope will care. But will the city care? Not unless they get sued! It’s hard to see a way out of this dilemma, I’ve taken Surface Geology and we discussed this issue, but unfortunately it had played out differently. The developer got his permits from the city to build and then every house in the development started sliding…..every single one in the upscale development was falling down slope…except the developers house! He had a house there too, but his was fine! The whole question was who should be held responsible? The city, the developer, or the people who bought the houses without doing their own survey’s?

    • I am glad that you see the ignorance of this developer as amazing, Stephanie– since many seemed to see it as simply business as usual. Taking your money and running is hardly the action of an ethical developer– nor what the community should require of him.
      Thanks for sharing an example than indicates this type of ignorance is far from uncommon– and sometimes approved (given a permit in this case) in spite of public safety since it is just presumedly “normal” behavior.

  120. The story about the developer in this article reminded me of a Karl Marx quote:

    A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. (Capital, Vol. I, Chap. 7, Pt. 1)

    I am still so amazed at our capacity for denial of the natural world around us and our refusal to live within its constraints. Why can’t we see our natural resources for what they are, natural capital? If captial is not renewable, it is priceless. Shouldn’t our environmental and ecological ideas embrace that? If we use up our capital, we are bankrupting ourselves.

    I agree that we are being fed lies about our economy being completely dependent on the manipulation and devastation of the natural world around us. I do believe in the possibility of a successful economic system that works together with the environmental system, and feel it is the only way our species is to survive.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment and interesting quote, Anna. You might be interested in the link to Fred Magdoff’s article on what would constitute an “ecological” society.

  121. One of the first things I noticed was the perspective that Father Blanchet holds compared to the Chehalis elders in reaction to the quote “lonely huts of the Indians”. This is just another example of how different our views are. Father Blanchet didn’t see the value in the huts and longs to: “replace with such civilized fixtures as a tavern”. He wanted modern amenities and didn’t care about who or what was currently on the land. The ingenious people on the other hand felt bad for Blanchet because he was too busy planning and picturing the future he was losing out on the present. Unfortunately, as we read in the first paragraph of this essay, this is still occurring today.
    At times I wish the land could talk, can you imagine what it would say? We continue to abuse our environment as it cannot stand up for itself. I feel like a broken record every time I ask myself if we will ever learn from the ingenious people. Instead of the developer in Eugene insisting on building on land that he does not know the history of, I think it would benefit him to educate himself. In our society we are concerned about tomorrow but don’t look any further. The decisions we make today are shaping the future. If we develop all of this land – there won’t be anything left. Who gave us the permission and power to alter it for our needs (or more wants) anyway? We get so caught up in our new technologies and inventions that we don’t take the necessary time to contemplate how our actions will affect the future.

    • Not only did Blanchet not see the value in the “huts”, Ellie– he didn’t see them at all. In fact, the Chehalis did not live in “huts”, they lived in huge and sophisticated longhouses. How do we know that the indigenous people felt sorry for Blanchet in this way?
      I think the land can speak– it just cannot speak English. But the stories of what some men chose to do there are certainly present in a clear cut.
      Indeed, it takes considerable hubris to imagine we have the license to do with land whatever we wish.

  122. I have been involved one way or another in the development/construction world my entire life, and the will of these people is a testament to the world we know today. To some, there is nothing worth saving unless its a money maker. Period. I can understand the cut throat world that developers live in, and it is the ones who are funding projects that are to blame. But there is always an exception to the rule. Here in San Diego, they are a ton a well educated, preservation minded developers who understand that we still need new infrastructure in order to just get by, and are doing what they can to leave the smallest footprint on the landscape as possible. Although there are many laws being made to protect various lands at the local level and somewhat at a state and federal level, these laws are often general and easily manageable with the right amount of money and lawyers. Also there is a social, but not quite ethical, uprising in our recent past to stop development in certain areas. There is always someone protesting a new Walmart or new shopping center, but its usually because they live nearby and don’t want the disturbance, not because they believe in the preservation of the land.

    • There is the LEED certification approach, for instance, John– and designer/architects like William McDonough. I appreciate your putting in a good word for developers like those.
      There are, unfortunately, also a number who would rather make a quick profit than assume responsibility for their work.
      And actually, I think there are plenty of reasons to oppose a Wal-Mart– starting with the over 200 labor dispute cases currently against them (the majority of which are for unpaid overtime) and ending with their effects on local products and retailers (which they often put out of business by contracting with China to supply goods at a rate that abdicates environmental and labor standards).
      I’m not sure I would agree that the majority who protest new development don’t care about preserving the land– those protesting the development in this case paid 20,000 out of their own pockets to amass the engineering reports, etc., to stop this development–and one at least is looking for a way to donate his own property (he is far from wealthy) to a non-profit with a conservation easement to protect the land in perpetuity.
      It is true that there is much manipulation that gives developers–and politicians–a bad name.
      And just to play devil’s advocate, suppose whatever it was we called “developments” were so neighborly and positive that all their neighbors welcomed them with open arms. I wonder what the neighbors of Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings thought of them– or the neighbors of the developers in Amsterdam who make amazing water sculpture in their green buildings with included public space.

  123. I would first like to say how much I enjoyed the way it was described that we would rather chew through the mountain then go around it. I have always thought that humans were such crazy, busy little creatures, constantly gnawing away at the earth. Weather it’s mining into the mountain, cutting down trees, or building our roads. I recently heard that somewhere there’s a project trying to drill through the alps. This really is just such a funny and ridiculous image for me, when i pull back and look at it from a removed view. However, what really struck me was the “lonely hurts” piece, were we long and grieve for a lost part of ourselves. Its in this desperate state to be whole that we have resorted to alter the world and even our bodies to fit some arbitrary ideal. We are constantly searching, and i fear in vain, to satisfy a deep, primal yearning. I have often felt the the earth misses humans, so for me its reciprocal, the earth aches for us, just as we desire to rekindle that relationship.

    • I am glad you enjoyed this, Anna.
      Henry Cultee’s metaphors are colorful– as are many of those who come from a storytelling tradition.
      I like your caring statement about the reciprocity of our missing the connection with the land.

  124. I enjoyed the succinct description of our effect on nature and agree that our European society has done a fantastic job of wiping out what was once wild in an attempt to make it conform to our vision of what a civilized world should be. I am reminded of the early English settlers at Jamestown Island- landing on a forested swamp in 1607 and attempting almost immediately to fall timber, dig ditches for drainage, and transform what was once a wild hunting ground unsuitable for inhabitance by the Algonquin speaking tribes of the area into an entire community built on a swamp. The settlers thought that they could blank slate Virginia and were instead met with disease and starvation. If they had followed the ways of those before them- living on higher ground and hunting in the right seasons, they might not have fallen to such low numbers in the early years as they attempted the clear and conform method of settlement. I see the same practices here today and am surprised that over 400 years of the same thing has not led to any change. Just a few weeks ago one of the houses overlooking the York river in historic Yorktown slid off of a bluff. When will we learn? Will we ever learn? Forcing nature to become something other than what it is does not work.

    • Thanks for your example here, Raquel. Discovery the Unknown Landscape is a book that details the history of wetlands–and our persistent attempt to drain them in US history.

  125. As with the developer in Eugene, people just want to make money no matter what the consequence. My parents own a construction company and have been asked many times to develop land that is just not develope-able and have to say no because it is not right. Money is the root of all evil and especially in today’s economy people, especially with this developer, are willing to put so many poeple’s lives in danger just to make a quick buck.
    Oregon has been infamous for landslides and people who have built homes on step slopes susceptible to landslides but they dont’ care. I think those homes on the Northwest coast that have to be protected is just silly, why would you want a hosue that doesn’t just distrub that land area but you must also disrput the natural workings of the ocean just to protect it. Doesn’t anyone remeber Hurricane Katrian and what happened to New Orleans? The Chahelis people were right in moving from their regualr villages to other places when the water would rise, its natural and because it does that naturally we must move ourselves because we have the capabilities to do so. Henry and his son were right, aren’t the White people smarter than that?

    • I would modify that to state that “some” people just want to make money, Cyria– fortunately–and as a matter of hope, there are those who set up other values as a priority– like the neighbors who fought this development with money from their own pockets, even though none of them were particularly well to do. Time to stay in place long enough to realize the consequences of our actions– and that goes for those like developers who should stand by their work rather than take the money and run.

  126. I think it is unfortunate that so many people see no problem with reshaping and scarring our lands. I do know that there are growing movements to build in a more environmentally manner. In the midwest there has been a movement to start building houses with straw bales and stucco. This is less expensive and invasive on the environment but provides insulation and a durable home. Also there is a growing interest in “container homes”. Where shipping containers are fixed together to make homes. These are very durable, and this way these large items can be recycled.

    I find it humorous about the missionary’s comments on the primitive living of the natives. Their living situations were obviously fine to continue on communities for thousands of years and their homes melded in with their surroundings. I find it very annoying when many of today’s homes are garishly colored or designed. I much prefer homes with colors that fit their surroundings and or stone features or wood. After all the area we live in is our home just as much as our actual house so why not try to fit in a bit.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal perspective: we perhaps need a value that native people exhibited; non-disturbance, such that if thousands of years of history have created a working natural system, we try to leave it intact and undisturbed for our having been there. This is the kind of attitude who insisted a prairie dug by native women should never show signs of their work to the next comer. Certainly, it would give us cause for thought and care if we held ourselves to the same standards in building and farming.

  127. This post reminds me of when I was learning to guide rivers and was taught by someone with way more experience that I had to learn to dance with the river, not fight it. I think of this now as I remember growing up along the San Joaquin Delta levees and having to leave the car packed with stuff in case the flood waters broke though and we had to make a quick getaway. We fight nature and worry, and try to reshape things, but I don’t think it’s necessarily easier.

    • Good advice in swimming any river, Lindzy. Always important to get that kind of power to work with you.

    • I think you have listed some good advice here. It is important to work in tandem with nature, just as you would in a dance, and not fight against it. How much easier and nicer would it be if we didn’t have to fight nature and worry. But, instead, if we worked with nature and both, human and the environment, were improved. Thanks for your comment.

      • I am thinking of the community of Gaviotas which carefully and painstakingly worked in tandem with nature and got a most wonderful surprises– the restoration of the local rain forest– how nice it would be to get these kinds of surprises instead of the crises the results of industrial technology too often brings us.

  128. I think it is important to work with the land and utilize the naturally created landscape as much as possible. This is important because nature is a powerful force and we have seen many examples of the damage that can be done as nature reclaims what was altered. This is also important because it is economically and sustainably wiser. Yes, humans may “control” nature to some extent but at what cost. How much does it cost to rebuild a home washed out in a flood plain or build a retaining wall to support a house on a hillside from washing away and what priceless lives may be lost in the process? It may require a little humility to leave parts of nature unclaimed because of these reasons, but a little humility is a good thing, as is respect.

    • A little humility also seems like wisdom if it backs us away from trying to control nature to our detriment and that of the natural world. Adapting to the counters of ecosystems may be slower and less dramatic–and it may take considerable knowledge of those systems, but it is much wiser in the long run. Thanks for your comment, Brandt.

  129. I agree with, if we destroy nature then in turn we destroy ourselves. If we keep hurting nature like we are doing, pretty soon we won’t have food, water or even houses to live in. People don’t think about the damage we are doing and how it will effect the Earth years from now. We as people just use nature like it is a never ending resource and soon we won’t have anything and won’t know how to survive. It is a shame how nature is something we just use with no regards, but hopefully we can change our attitudes or we will not be in for a good future.

  130. In our ever constant desire to “improve our life”, humans have literally altered every aspect of our lives and I speak of nature as being an aspect). As a race, humans are never content, never satisfied. We always want things done faster, the newest technology, whatever we can get to help us fill a void. That is what I truly believe. There is something missing from our lives and we are desperately trying to fill it. Maybe we are missing the relationship that is most important: the one with nature.

    • I appreciate your point, but take issue with your characterization of “humans” and the “human race” here, Sage– that skips over all the cultural variation in human history. I would very much like to see observations such as these limited to particular persons within particular cultures (and knowing the social forces that foster these values, we can also begin to work on changing them). Thanks for your comment.

  131. What is troubling to me in this essay is the description of the developer’s interaction with the public at this meeting. He obviously had no knowledge of the risks of his proposed development site and he just threw out a few platitudes on how he would deal with the issues. It is that type of carelessness that got us in the environmental mess we are in today. I surely hope a few concerned citizens at this hearing had the opportunity to express themselves and their views concretely to this man and whatever presiding authority was present. I hope the public did not show the same level of disdain for due diligence as this developer did.

    • Good observation about the developer’s knowledge here, Dale. I wonder, had he realized just how transparent his ignorance of the risks were, if he would have used the same strategy– or learned a bit more (of course, that knowledge would not weigh in on the side of his developing this property). Actually, there were hours of sophisticated testimony on the part of citizen witnesses, whose “due diligence” was far greater; a citizen group even contracted Lidar radar images to indicate the history of earth flow in this area– something the developer should have been required to do, I think. Thanks for your astute comment.

  132. There is a sentence in the first paragraph that really sums up what we have done to this Earth (and, indeed, the indigenous peoples who were here thousands of years before we were): “He would just alter the land to fit his needs as he went along.” Unfortunately, that seems to be the concensus in white patriarchal capitalistic societies; if it doesn’t fit our needs, we’ll change it, and damn the consequences.

    The “lonely hut” comment struck me as well, especially in light of the fact that the “hut” was 200 feet in length. This was a place where people gathered, and I highly doubt that they were lonely. I think what would be more lonely is destroying the “hut” and building a place in which one separates him or herself from nature.

    I loved the analogy of the Earth being treated in much the same way that women are treated (and, indeed, ecofeminists argue that the way women are treated is reflected in the way we treat the Earth). We subjugate and change the Earth to fit ideals that are unreasonable, and we expect the same thing from women. What happened to the time when big beautiful women were revered and thought to be fertile? It is the same with the Earth. In remaking her, we are taking away her fertility and femininity.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Kim. You hit upon a key point (and problem with our worldview, I think) in that we want to adapt the natural world to ourselves rather than adapting our behavior to the natural world.
      I like your perceptive comment on the “lonely hut”- indeed, the author of this statement, traveling through a land he considered alien, is the one obviously more lonely than those who lived in multi-family houses– and maintained one of their largest village houses for the purpose of feasting and ceremony to which they invited guests from numerous other tribes.
      There is much to ponder in your last point: indeed, it seems to me that natural beauty stirs us in such a way that it incites our responsibility, care and compassion–and for some reason, there seem to be those who feel a hostile response to this. That is, it is not always true, that I have felt some hostility and even anger on the part of those who destroy natural beauty to set their own controlled and stultified image there instead.

    • I think you make a great point about the lonely hut. I can only imagine how much life was contained in a 200 foot-high hut filled with winter horse races! The only lonely thing about the situation is the fact that the record-keeper, Father Blanchet, failed to recognize the value and significance of other human life and culture. This is another example of how, in my comment, I referred to man as being disconnected and lonely when he is not in touch with and living cooperatively with the natural world, (obviously referenced from the article).

      You also make significant point about women. Just as man disregards the natural world and how it is/is meant to be without harsh alterations, man often disregards the natural spirit and form of woman. There is such a strong connection between a contractor bulldozing over natural elements of a land’s topography and society portraying a sense of beauty that is, often, only attainable through unhealthy eating habits and plastic surgery. Both ideals hurt nature and the natural world. It would be natural for man to work with nature and its land when building things for himself, just as it would be natural for man to value a woman in her natural form without altercations. Both have been disregarded at the selfish and close-minded ideals of today’s society.

      • Good points about this endemic loneliness (in alienation from land and others) in the modern age, Amanda and Kim. And make that a 200 foot LONG house =).
        And you also have a good point that we can hardly develop an intimate partnership with anything if we are busy changing it (or even seeing it) to our specifications.

  133. I found this article to be interesting in that it addresses a common problem that is prevalent throughout our world, particularly America – selfishness. Because people think they have the ability to destroy things and use the Earth’s resources at their will, they think that they have the RIGHT to. I see people take advantage of the natural word every day simply because they can – because there is no real defense of it. I have watched people throw waste on the ground because they don’t want to hold on to it long enough to find a trash can or recycling bin. There is no better way in which we can spit in the face of the natural world that provides us life and sustenance than to treat it in such a way that says: “I don’t care about you and if I want to do something that isn’t good for you or in cooperation with you, I am still going to do it.”

    Instead of treating our natural world this way, it would be interesting to see what our relationship would be with it if we were to treat it with the respect that we so command from it. I find this particular quote from the article striking: “We might give up our impulse to treat our world as if it were only the vision of our own desires– and the terrible loneliness that flows from this.” We cannot be connected with ourselves and others of our human race if we are so disconnected from our natural world. To live in cooperation with nature, instead of abusing and destroying it at our whims, would mean a deeper connection with nature and, ultimately, life. When we are the only ones attaining something from the relationship we have with the Earth, we will feel lonely. Deep down, we know that we are not getting all we can from this relationship and this kind of destruction is heavier than people think on the human psyche. It would be lovely to see how people benefit, mentally, from deeper connections/relationships with nature. I am betting those that live in peace with it are more content and less lonely – as you inferred.

    Nature will not neglect to respond to this behavior for much longer than it already has. Eventually she will strike back at man for abusing her and her resources, and it is scary to think of what we might have to face once that happens.

    • Hi Amanda, thanks for sharing your thoughts here. Though it might seem in the short term that we can express our selfishness any way we wish with respect to the natural world, there are ultimately consequences like climate change– which might effect our behavior if we aren’t in denial– and the petrochemical industries had not put millions of dollars into an ad campaign supporting supposed “climate skepticism’ which has no scientific basis. We have seen this before (“the trouble with progress” here) as so many destructive industries launched dis-information campaigns.
      If we are seeing things from the perspective of selfishness, of course, such campaigns play into what we would like to believe.
      I appreciate your elaboration of the loneliness that lies at the center of such ego-centered behavior.

    • Amanda, I absolutley agree with alot of the key points you have made in this comment. It is a shame that we as humans have the mentality that we can reshape what ever isn’t viewed as perfect or fitting in our eyes. Everything from land, to our bodies, and we have even genetically modfied plants and animals to keep up with our demands.
      There will come a day when we will truly have to face the consequences of our actions and that day is coming quickly. I also believe that eventually mother nature will strike back at us for the damage we have done.

  134. I found it scary reading this article. It seems like the person in charge of the development did know what the result of the development could be. He unfortunately did not want to acknowledge that it is a problem that would have to be addressed later in the future when it caused damage to the environment. The people who live in the area were the ones who would be at the greatest risk. If they knew what kind of problems the development would bring I am sure that they would want to have a say in whether or not it gets built. It is a reminder that newer technology does not mean that it is going to be better and improve the world in general.

  135. I commented on this essay when I took PHL 443 last fall, but I have since taken a geology course that talked about this very subject. The course dealt with how many Westerners are “remodeling” nature to make it work for us and the problems we are creating by doing so. In addition to discussing this situation from Eugene, we also covered how dams, groins, seawalls, etc. are destroying and eroding our coastlines. This notion of “making” nature work for us is dangerous.

    Geologists have maintained (with evidentiary support) that reinforcing unstable land to support development is gambling with human lives, and the vitality of the land itself. It seems that the only way to keep this from becoming a continuous problem is to have federal law enacted to prevent the development of unnaturally reinforced land. Many more geologists will be needed and people will have to appreciate not only the land, but the dangers that “remodeling” the land presents to our safety as well.

    • I think this is a great example of what kind of damage we can do when we decide we can just go out and change the land. By bending it to our will, we are taking away its identity – its structural integrity, if you will…and this, I’m sure, will ultimately lead to disaster. There is an area near where I live that is a rocky hill. There are homes built there, and you can tell that the hill was manipulated to suit the developers needs. Needless to say, a couple of years ago, some of the houses slid right the hell down the hillside as it collapsed. One of the home owners was a customer of mine, and we talked about it one day when she came in to my workplace. When she and her husband bought the house, the seller wasn’t truthful about the nature of the land manipulation, so they had no idea it was so bad (but, really, in all fairness, you’re buying a house on a hill that was manipulated and carved out of the rock, so you can’t expect there won’t be problems). Anyway, they still don’t have their house fixed because the city is saying it isn’t their responsibility, and the developers are saying it’s city property, so it isn’t their responsibility. This is the kind of stuff that happens when we change the natural balance of things to suit our needs.

      • Good point about taking away the identity– and thus the structural integrity of the land, Kim. This fits especially well with Crystal’s point about the geological data in this regard. I appreciate the example of the house that slid down the hill. It will just keep happening as long as we keeping being so dumb about where we build.

    • Thanks for sharing these perspectives from geology, Crystal, on the ways in which development on “unnaturally reinforced” is simply asking for trouble. Great points here!

  136. I forgot to include this link in my previous post, but it includes some information about what human “remodeling” is doing to our coastlines, etc. We covered much of this in the aforementioned geology course.

    http://oceanworld.tamu.edu/resources/oceanography-book/coastalerosion.htm

  137. In the geology course I am taking this semester we have been discussing development along areas prone to landslides, earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes. One of our recent discussions was regarding New Orleans and whether the government should have banned rebuilding there after Hurricane Katrina.

    Obviously, moving millions of people would be a monumental task, but what is striking is how people think it’s just peachy to go right back to where they started and develop more stuff. How many hurricanes, floods, deaths and billions of dollars of destruction does it take to convince people it’s not safe?

    In response to your quote “design our human actions so that…the creatures of nature recognize us as family when they look upon the things we do,” I wanted to point our readers to the amazing work of Frank Lloyd Wright and one of his masterpieces.

    The Wayfarer’s Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes, California is so beautiful in its incorporation of nature, that is breathtaking.

    http://www.wayfarerschapel.org/

    • Thanks for sharing this link featuring the amazing Frank Lloyd Wright piece–and (just from my perspective) it seems that someone teaching geology is doing it right– since so many have brought up this point on this forum!

      • My geology instructor at OSU is Rebecca Yalcin. She’s been doing a great job and pointing out many of the industrial worldviews and their negative impacts on the planet, people, and nature. It is nice to have a holistic education where many of the instructors and professors are weaving a colorful fabric that has so much meaning.

        • Always nice to know how different disciplines support one another with good information. We could do worse than have a “holistic” approach to these important topics, as you label it.

  138. This article is a real eye opener to the type of people out there. There is so much greed on this planet. Development has benefits to a community, but at what cost? We need to remember our role on this planet and it isn’t about domination. We as humans have taken advantage of the many gifts of mother nature and have turned their head at the damage that we have caused all in the name of money. Money has become such an important aspect of life that everything else has been put on the back burner.
    When we have developed everything that can be developed only then will people see what we have lost and only a few will have benefited from this.

    • Hi Kiley, it seems to me that development can benefit a community (as opposed tot the bank account of the developer) under particular conditions that include supporting the ground that sustains community members’ lives– rather than the greed (as you aptly note) of a few.

  139. When I think about our current society surviving without changing our current behaviors, I think of the Borg from Star Trek, the next generation. With all those bodies plugged into the ship, I think they were all living a virtual reality, like the Matrix (but I had the idea before Matrix, when I first saw the Borg). But the Borg just went around sucking nutrients for life from whatever came before its path, killing everything equally, completely. i wonder how satisfied the average person would be with a virtual forest as opposed to a real one. I fear they would not mind. I think the dominate society is only concerned with it’s own lifestyle; its maintenance and further establishment. When colonists arrived to the New World, they were not interested in the established communities, so much so they could not see them for what they were, but only as what they were not, based upon the idea of civilization as they knew it and the terrible need to reproduce it. This lack of respect and openness, along with the idea that all can be manipulated to serve our visions, continues, witnessed in the mutilation of our bodies, our earth, different cultures…what will stop us from becoming the Borg?

    • You had a point worth pondering in terms of the mechanization of industrial society. I think what will stop us from becoming the Borg (as you put it) is that we are creatures of nature–and nature itself will stop up. There is simply a limit to the ways in which nature can be manipulated and we can extract from the land without putting back before our place in the system of life is undercut. The Borg lived in the “pure” world of the void of space, feeding off the energy of those they assimilated (sound like a metaphor for colonialism and what Vandana Shiva terms “mal-development” to anyone?)–and even a virtual world must run on power of some sort. When it runs out of others to assimilate and is forced back on its own resources, it may fight wars to keep up its consumptive habits, but it must learn to live within its own resources or collapse.
      And there is this about imagination- it is a wonderful creative aspect of humans, but if we attempt to live as if we can make the world into our imagination (or the world of our imagination is the only world there is), we are doomed for self-destruction in the long term– not to mention, terrible loneliness in the short term.

    • I understand the fears you have expressed here. Sometimes I fear this sort of society will overtake us as well. But I trust in the basics of human nature and the instinct that drives us to seek nature that lies even in corporate goons whether they recognize it or not. We just have to keep plugging away at them. We’ll get there.

  140. Interesting, too, that Blanchet should use the word “lonely” to describe the longhouse communal dwellings of several families together when pioneer families were scratching out livings alone on 300 plus acres.
    Much lonelier are our suburban dwellings today where people don’t ever need to talk to their neighbors; they simply drive through their automatic garage door and slip into their homes without ever having to be outside to say hello to each other.

    • Hi Neyssa, I do think that the issue of loneliness goes with the individualism and focus on nuclear families in our culture–and also, in the worldview of domination, since the dominator automatically severs him or herself from the world s/he attempts to dominate.

    • I like the way you described loneliness with sarcasm here. The natives with their longhouses and communities were more connected to their people and nature than modern Americans. Even though there are more of us and we are connected by the internet and communication is instant, I feel our society has lost a sense of community. We have lost a sense of community with other humans and nature. Most of us feel like that can be solved by dominating nature, which just makes it worse. We have made ourselves distant from our neighbors through technology.

      • Hey Zach,

        I agree, with all of modern societies “electronic capabilities” we have lost the sense of community. SInce our communities are now considered who is in our “Facebook Network” we create a type of community that has lost its connectedness with nature. Technology may have made it easier to talk, show and share things with people, but it has affected the way we think about the natural world. Because of the ways modern society communicates so many people are so far disconnected from nature they have this out of site out of mind mentality. People don’t think about what is going on in the natural world to make the power that is giving them the ability to talk to their friends online. It is very important to find a way to get people to balance the original sense and the modern sense of community, thus not let technological advancement make us forget that we live with nature.

      • Dominating nature does not do much for the loneliness you describe. Indeed, I would say it does exactly the opposite. When we make of natural life an object, we certainly don’t have any other lives for company.

    • I like your example of our suburban dwellings, I have a friend that lived in NYC for four years and he said he once went two weeks without having a real conversation. Just your typical hello’s and thank you’s, he said that it was hard at times to be lonely in a city of eight million people. lol

      • Seems that may be directly or indirectly linked to the lack of a natural landscape (there are blocks of the city where there is not a single tree), given the research that indicates more urban natural areas means more community. I think that in spite of the prevalence of our industrial worldview, deep down if we don’t feel connected to some aspect of the natural world, we don’t feel connected to other lives (including human ones).

  141. People live wherever they want to despite the force of nature. Historically the places in this essay such as a floodplain could not be inhabited annually. Now modern engineering allows us to live where we want for a little longer. Mother Nature is still the boss though. Just look at hurricane Katrina which obliterated the people who lived too close to the ocean. People deal with the forces of nature head on, and attempt to control it for survival. The joke from the Skokomish people is funny “We knew whites had arrived when we woke up one morning and the river was moved”. It is a true statement. By attempting to control nature we cause more problems in the long run, and alienate ourselves from nature. I too agree that there is nothing lonely about a village of native huts. The whites were ignorant to want to rid the natives of their land and their ways. People cannot see that the world is perfect as it is and making so called improvements by erasing nature is a bad thing. I agree with “we destroy the sources of our sustenance, we are going out with them”.

    • The Skokomish people sure hit that on the button. But either way, I do agree that people need to tend a bit more to nature when choosing a place to live, or be ready to move during different seasons. I live in a relatively safe place from nature in MN (of course floods and tornadoes could occur), but I just don’t see myself ever buying property that puts me at the grace of mother nature everyday.

    • Perhaps humans live wherever they want in the short term.
      I like your sense that the world is perfect as it is (or at least in its interdependent systemic relationships)– certainly we don’t do well for ourselves by turning a benefit (steer manure) into a problem by crowding cows into feedlots and feeding them unnatural diets.

  142. As I am not sure if nature should decide where we live, I am also not sure we have much of a choice. The indigenous people were much smarter with such choices. They knew when it was safe or not safe to live on floodplains and they moved when they had to. But because of modern day technology and engineering, we think we are better than that. Well, nature has proved that to be wrong on more than one occasion. I guess many people look at it as risk and reward and the high risk is worth whatever reward they seem to get out of it (somehow I am sure it is monetary). I also liked the tie-in to reality TV and how people think they can remake humans as they do nature. Obviously, doing either of these things is not a brilliant idea.

    • Thoughtful response, David.
      I would only respond that I think we do have a good deal of choice in where we live– are you implying that economics determines this? It seems that we should pressure our municipalities to oversee the development of land in wiser ways.

      • I think that our choices for where we live are getting smaller as the population grows. I also think that a lot of where we live does have to do with economics, such as where we can find a job. An interesting thought is where we live that will have the least impact on the environment really brings us further away from in. Living in a big city apartment taking public transportation everywhere will have less of an impact than having a big house on 10 acres and driving to and from work for an hour every day. I think that we do have choices for where we live, but what impact it may have may be less clear than we first think.

        • Indeed, since living in New York City, for instance, means one uses half the energy of the average US citizen elsewhere. It is public transport that is largely responsible.

  143. We may think we can change nature and it won’t affect us, but when we disturb nature it’s like starting a wave on a steel chain. The energy is going away from us, but it will be transferred down the line to someone else.

    • Good point, Wil. Thus our responsibility in this matter is directly linked to justice (others should not suffer from our bad decisions).

    • So simple and right on. Just because we throw something away doesn’t mean that it is really gone, it has just transfered places. We don’t always see what effects our actions have. Well said.

    • I really like that visual, it just made me think of more ideas along the same line. The butterfly effect is the one that pops out to me, whatever is done in our world affects something at some level. No matter how small the change may be it will affect something, that is just how the universe works.

  144. This way of thinking that we can just alter the landscape to fit our needs happens all the time. Just recently in stream restoration are we beginning to see that we cannot contain nature but have to coexist with the natural actions around us. An example of this can be found in urban streams. Bank erosion is common due to an increase in flow volumes and velocity and a disconnect between the stream and the floodplain. To deal with this engineers use to just armor the banks, build these concrete walls to stop the banks from eroding. This only increased the problem downstream. Now restoration is looking at the cause of the problem. Reconnecting even the smallest big of floodplain in urban areas can make a big difference, that coupled with diverting storm water from flowing into the streams is what really makes a difference in band erosion.
    I had to smile at the Chehalis elder that remarked ‘whites rather chew through a mountain than go around’. How true is that; we look to make things easier for ourselves when dealing with nature even if it means taking extraordinary actions. Women do the same thing to their bodies, going to these extremes to create their body into looking a certain way instead of cherishing the strengths that they already have in their own body. Our society has this vision of what perfect should look like and we try to mold everything to that instead of cherishing the individualism we find in nature and ourselves.

    • This change in the way stream restoration is done is a very hopeful thing to me. Thanks for sharing your experience in this. “Armoring the banks”– even the words tell you something essential about the previous process. I love the fact that so many urban streams originally put under ground are now being “daylighted” once again.
      “Making things easier for ourselves by taking extraordinary actions” seems a bit ironic, yes?
      Either our society has the idea of perfect–or modern advertisers have sold us that idea.
      Thanks for sharing these ideas.

  145. I enjoyed this essay. It reminded me of when I took Native American History and U.S. History at the same time at Tacoma Community College in Tacoma Washington. It was amazing the way that we viewed our history and how it really was. Native American History was very eye opening and heartbreaking at the same time. The white people came to this land and felt that the only way was there way and destroyed anything in their path. It wasn’t long after we exterminated so many Native American Tribes and pushed the rest onto reservations that some people started having second thoughts about how they had treated the Natives. With the start of this they went from being told it was OK to be Native American to being told it wasn’t many a times. This is no different than how we have treated our planet. We have gone back and fourth for quite some time with how we should treat our planet. It depends on who is in charge and what their views are. What they need to understand is the longer we debate about how things should be the worst this planet gets. The sooner they figure that out the better. The U.S. is one of the worst for this because it is the land of the free and no one wants to be told what to do even if that means protecting and caring for the planet that is their home. I think that the United States will be one of the last ones to get on board for this reason.

    • Thoughtful as well as compassionate response, Adina. Colonizers have characterized treated both the land and the land’s peoples in this tragic way.

    • I agree that while many people probably see there is a problem, no one wants to be held accountable and no one wants to change there way of living to solve the bigger problem. However, when I am in line at the grocery store and see everyone sporting a cool re-usable grocery bag I feel hopeful. When I am running down a busy street and see a line of bikes waiting at the stop light on their commute to work I feel hopeful. I hope that the US isn’t last to fall into line with helping care for the planet. I hope that with new technology and small simple changes we can find ways to set the trends for the rest of the world (solar panels, cool electric cars, smaller cars, neat-o bikes etc.) to help make our environment and the rest of the earth a healthier and happier place for generations to come.

      • I like your hopeful vision, Rudy– nice perspective on the combination of the importance of the combination of new (ethical and sustainable) technologies and the cumulative effects of seemingly small choices each of us make in our everyday lives.
        And I am with you in hoping that the US exerts some leadership in arenas like inhibiting toxics releases and addressing climate change.

      • Rudy;
        In all the despair you made me feel proud as you reminded me when my friends and I carry cloth shopping bags or do beach cleanup we care and that is important. Thank you for restoring my faith in humanity.

  146. This article really stuck with me as just this week I was inspired by another blog post by founder of Girls on the Run, Molly Barker, who has started the “naked face” project. You can check it out here: http://mollybarker.com/2012/01/27/the-naked-face-project/

    The naked face project encourages women and girls all over the world to celebrate themselves just the way they are–makeup, plastic surgery, dyes, diets, and cosmetic free. Somehow, someway, we have to make natural be beautiful because society has forgotten. I think it is our society that strives to be more, to be bigger, to be better. And in doing so we spend so much time changing the state of our environment and ourselves that we forget what natural beauty looks like and loose the ability to let things just be. We are all our own biggest critics, but it might be worth it to stop and ask ourselves, why am I applying makeup? Maybe I should let my natural glow shine through. Why am I blowing all the fall leaves off my front lawn, maybe the wind will come by when nature is ready? We need to ask ourselves, what are the costs? What are the benefits? And with that in mind, we just might find that natural beauty is not only timeless but priceless.

  147. My parents just built a home out in the wilderness to be closer to the thing they both enjoy, the outdoors. Their house is almost completely self sustaining and we are in the process of getting our electricity completely off the grid. I find it very hard to believe that a developer would want to destroy an already developed area. Though it is not filled with cookie cutter houses that hill side is providing something to the community, it is providing anti-erosion through the roots of the trees and a habitat for animals displaced by other “developments”. If you are going to build a new home the goal should be to work with the property you fell in love with, not change it to fit some other idea. Loved this article, it really got me thinking about how close minded we can be when it comes to our ideas of progress.

    • Thanks for your feedback.
      There IS such a thing as responsible development, as you point out– though it is not for those used to taking short cuts–and it begins with assessing which lands are NOT suitable for development (such as good agricultural land or wetlands). See On Good Land for the story of a farm protected from development as other agricultural lands are swallowed up by suburbia around it.
      In terms of your comment, Barbara Kingsolver writes of our ironic and sad propensity to name developments for natural features that the development obliterates: e.g. Coyote Glen, Deerbrook or Cougar Ridge.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more Elizabeth. What state do your parents reside in? My husband and I talk often with excitement about the day we can break ground on our own self sustaining home..we are young but the plans are in the works.

      I live in Oregon and there is lots of land we can utilize that won’t disturb the animals and or harm any other people living around us.

      I am not surprised at all though really, about the developers thoughts. The Porltland area is surrounded by homes that sit on land that should never have been disturbed for the very reason you point out; anti-erosion.

      Congrats on your parents’ new space! I hope it’s what they dreamed of.

    • Hi Elizabeth,
      You make a statement that I have read in many of these comments and so it got me thinking…several people have made note about how humans are always wishing to “change [the land] to fit some other idea”. Why is this I wonder? What about the current way in which the land is shaped is not sufficient for us that we must continually be altering it to bring about an idea or image that is not real. Yet we project feelings of happiness and peace with this image, as if this theoretical image could change your entire worldview and bring that one thing that we crave, happiness. It is so odd to me that we can’t look upon the already fashioned lands and just say “ah, perfection” and look to that as our idea of happiness (as complete within itself).

  148. I am not surprised at all by the feelings of the developer at the start of the essay. My family has many builders, designer, architects and engineers in it. The only difference is most of my family members understand the importance of nature and the history of the land you are about to build on!

    Recently my county had some major flooding; several of my friends live in areas of the county most would think would not flood; but they’d be wrong! The floods of 1996 here in Oregon are also something to think about; who builds an entire city in a flood plain? Obviously whatever genious decided on this area of land had not listend to the locals prior to building; and they were very observant, because if they were they would have saw where those locals/natives lived; above the areas we all live in now.

    I find it very disappointing that many people to this day don’t take into consideration the lands stablility and history before they break ground on their dream home. Billions of dollars could be saved with a little FREE research!

    • Indeed, oral history is a great resource–but in the case of the developer in this essay it was not a problem of ignorance–but wanting to make a profit by building in spite of the knowledge of the land.
      One proposed idea was that the developer put up an insurance bond so that he would not be able to saddle those to whom he sold houses with problems when he left.
      That has not, as far as I know, been done anywhere– which encourages the unscrupulous to build, sell, and leave homeowners dealing with floods (or landslides or earthquakes).
      Thanks for your comment.

    • My brother is an architect and he runs into this all the time. He has a lot of trouble with his boss’s because he knows the value of land and the laws of physics, but the firm just wants to make money and move on to the next project. It is sad that people cannot take time when building things, the structures would be better and last longer if they were to do it right the first time.

      • Doing it right the first time- what a concept! That may take some time and care. How about also being responsible for something you have built for a few decades after you have sold it? I am thinking of the problems of those houses perched on sliding hillsides developed AFTER the builders have sold their houses and gone.

  149. I believe that changing the land to fit human activity is necessary, but only if it does not destroy the land. One can change the land without destroying it, one can even create a beneficial element to the area as long as the ecosystem is not altered, locally or globally. People need to get away from the ideas of need it now and need it cheap for it to be good. The planet took time creating these systems that we want to change so bad, we can take time in changing them so not to destroy ourselves in the process.

    • I wonder if we could actually turn this view around and hold ourselves to the standard that we will not change the land unless that change increases its natural resiliency, diversity of lives, and fertility (as in water tables and soil quality).

    • I agree that people should change their land to fit human activities without destroying environment.But this is very ideal theory. It is impossible to change without changing some environmental situation. However, we can put more effort to Not hurt enviroment. It is hard for us to do because if we consider about enviroment we need to spend more time and money…

  150. It is very sad that people look at a piece of property as a blank slate that they can shape, form ,and build their house on. People today also shape their bodies with plastic surgery thinking it will make them look better. This is very sad to see that in today’s mindset no one cares of nature or even what it provides for us. It is sad when a grove a trees are cut down or cleared to build new houses not to mention all the little animas homes that get destroyed because of humans. It’s sad to think that we would rather shape the land how we think it should be instead of appreciating it for how nature has shaped it. I love being outdoors in nature and I can’t think of anything more that would make me happier. It is sad that others don’t share my same feelings about nature.

    • Your comment brings to mind– in your statement about your love of being outdoors– the sense of the terrible loneliness entailed if we were to finally wrest control of the natural world and see everywhere only the reflection of ourselves, our desires and our own powers.

  151. I guess it is sometimes probably good to change something even though the natural world has been changed by constructing some building. However, there is lack of carefulness when they consider about building new stuff. I am not saying that we should not change the natural world forever, but at least we should put some effort on it. I know that if we start considering extra thing we might need to spend more money and time. ( it is kinda sad thing that people usually choose Not caring about it”) . Before we build something we need to research the land. I think that it is important to try Not changing as much as possible because nature has strong power so if they lose control itself we have to deal with huge problems…(example, flooding??)

  152. I find it interesting that often when people look at nature they see a “blank slate” (as you note in the article), as if the thousand shades of blues, greens, browns, pinks, yellows, etc are just watercolors and with enough water they can erase it all away. I wonder how art got dragged into this mindset? Nature, I believe, is an already complete work of art or canvas – and although it is constantly shifting or moving and growing it is not a white canvas ready for the first brush stroke.

    On that note I did wish to say that I thoroughly got a kick out of Richard Cultee’s joke: “We knew whites had arrived when we woke up one morning and the river was moved.” The truth within the humor made me laugh so hard.

    • I am glad you liked the joke, Michelle. It seems to me that sometimes humor can give us perspective we don’t get any other way– not to mention, a lift for our spirits.
      Great question about how and why we perceive the multi-colored, faceted and diverse (not to mention, living) natural world) as a blank slate to do with what we will.
      If we know how we got there, maybe we can reverse this.

    • I like how you mentioned the colors of nature being water colors. It reminded my about the song on Pocahontas cartoon Colors of the WInd. I also found the joke funny but in perspective true.

  153. Contractors across our country do the same thing. Americans like the beauty that nature has so if the house is on the ocean, on a hill or in a valley we pay top dollar. Never consider the history or natural occurrences such as floods, mud slides or earth quake. I don’t blame the contractors for this but the rich people that have their house built with a view who over pay for that house.

  154. I think Henry Cultee’s statement actually says more indirectly than directly, and I’m pretty sure he meant it. The man is wise beyond even the definition we have for wisdom. When he declares, “whites would rather chew through a mountain than go around” I believe he purposely used the word chew. He could have used a myriad of other words instead of chew, such as carve or plow, but I believe he was trying to illustrate how whites on average are a consuming bunch. Henry Cultee saw whites as moving through the land and digesting every available resource. Words can be powerful, and Henry uses them precision.

    • Very nice perspective and analysis on the point of the word “chew”, Trent. I think you are absolutely right, since he also told me about a (satirical) visit to the land of the dead which was inhabited by a white man surrounded by all the species that he had made extinct, as he declared, “eat is all up!”

    • You bring up a really interesting point. I was struck pretty deeply by that statement by Cultee too. It says so much about people who are only willing to take from the land (consume, as you put it) and not willing to put anything back. I think the natives had a healthy idea of the give-and-take relationship required to live well with the land, but the pioneers who showed up afterward apparently didn’t feel the give part was necessary.

      • Important to remember that if we continue to attempt to take from the land without putting anything back, our accounts will someday come due– and likely in tragic ways.

  155. The architect in the beginning of the article displayed a kind of arrogance that is significant. If anything nature teaches us again and again that it cannot be controlled. Nature is unpredictability in an ordered form. It has it’s own set of rhythms, we just end up surprised because we don’t care to watch and listen. The way that this article described our desperate attempts to shape nature in order to fit our visions made me think of my home state of Florida. Every year I would see tourists flooding in from around the world. There were great comments about the weather, beaches, and attractions. What people failed to see was the immense amount of constant “maintenance” that is required when living in a subtropical environment. Nature is always trying to wrest back what we have developed. I usually spent the summer “beating back the jungle” in our back yard, as my Mom would phrase it. Alligators in swimming pools, home flattening hurricanes, and outbreaks of West Nile Virus all serve as reminders that we are guests. I always thought it amazing that some where in history explorers came to Florida thinking they could “wipe the slate clean” and make whatever they wanted of that humid, jungly, bug ridden swamp. (As a side note, I love my home state but I appreciate it’s complexities which involve more than a famous movie mouse.)

    • Lindsay- I appreciate your comment about how we often don’t see the “desperate attempts to shape nature in order to fit our visions”. Isn’t it funny, that when people go visit other places, they often expect to see something more neat and managed- almost like a garden, as opposed to a wilderness. In my reading of this essay, I was also struck by the developer’s attitude that what was already there didn’t matter, he would just remake it to suit his purpose. Arrogance is a good word for it.
      I also liked your image of nature as having its own rhythm. Madronna used the idea of responding to nature “as if it were a living thing”. Both of these seem much more in-line with the other readings we are doing in class. The Grandmothers keep reminding us to listen to the Earth and remember.

  156. The whole idea of erasing nature strikes me as an ultimate act of control. When the architect assumed that he could engineer a solution to overcome the natural contours of the land, I see this as hubris- a clear statement of “what is already/naturally there is not ‘good enough’, so I will fix it”. The efforts people (especially women) go through to alter their own bodies can mimic this intensity, and our ability to do so seems to be only increasing as science and medicine move ever forward. Don’t like those wrinkles? Inject some botox or have surgery. Don’t like the way your hair naturally turns gray as you age? Dye it- lots of chemicals to choose from! This attitude towards the Earth and our bodies is a sign of our disconnect, putting ourselves outside of- and even above- what happens naturally. As humans, we don’t have to just settle for what is. A mountain in the way? We have some dynamite that will take care of it… I agree with your sentiment that change is not necessarily bad- but we often seem to make these changes in thoughtless and destructive ways. One thing I like from permaculture, is taking the time to study a place or system, and see what is already there and happening and considering how to work with and around these elements.

    • I like this about permaculture as well, Jennifer. And perhaps with all this “fixing” nature there is a question we forget to ask, which is what really IS attractive? Is it reshaped and remodeled and stuck back together in some other fashion, or natural vibrancy– which has its own cycles of time and wisdom?
      I guess if we equate beauty with power over something (with control, as you point out), than we will never accept either ourselves or the natural world as is. And if we can’t accept it, we won’t be able to properly listen to it, understand it–and learn how best to survive on this gift of an earth.

    • You are so insightful! While I’ve thought about both the domination of land and the domination of women, I’ve never thought about how similar those attempts are: to change what is (for better or worse) to please men. I think that it is a really important aspect of patriarchal control and this concept would have to be dismantled in order to break down the system that continues to subjugate women and the environment.

    • Jennifer,

      I have often found this tidal wave of media culture touting the type of body image women (and even men) should have as absolutely frightening. It leads back to what you mentioned about our need for “fixing” and the ultimate power trip that occurs when we try to “erase nature”. Aging, a natural cycle, is feared and reviled. Thus, industry attempts to do everything it can to eliminate aging. What we are losing by erasing aging is a sort of steeping of the soul with the wisdom of time. I have this morbid vision of embalmers not having a job because people die looking like plastic Barbie dolls. History teaches us that our hubris always gets the better of us.

      • Not only is aging a natural part of our life cycle– but elders in most human cultures have something to pass on to future generations that is revered–and thus they have power.
        I have been at many a native celebration when the elders are fed first. The Grandmother in the essay on “caring for the commons” told me that children could not help but be attracted to her since she had the “grandmotherly look” abut her. We have a very different idea about our elders– just as we do about learning from history, including the ancient history in which the parts of ecological systems came to work with one another.

      • Your line about embalmers and barbie dolls cracks me up! You’re absolutely right, though, it’s almost more common to have had some form of plastic surgery now than not to. It is just so sad that women hold themselves to this standard of looking young forever. I suppose that the high rate of divorce might play into that somewhat in that middle age women are finding themselves trying to attract a mate.

        • I like the idea about embalmers and barbie dolls as well. It is more apt than we may have thought, since I understand things like botux injections work by paralyzing facial muscles. Guess you better visit your doctor this treatment wearing the expression you want to show the world for the next several months!
          I am not sure divorce has much to do with this– or at least I HOPE that middle age women aren’t prey to this media hype.

    • Living in Florida so much of nature has been controlled and fixed, or as Dr. Holden described, ‘reshaped and remodeled and stuck back together.’ I do not find evenly spaced trees and layered landscapes by height as pretty, but I guess many do. Then again, if Disney World can grow just about anything … why not the rest of Florida …sigh! By landscaping how we see fit is a type of power, and if humans ever walk away and stop maintaining these landscapes, most everything would die and volunteers would begin in their place.

  157. I was impressed with the unique perspective this essay provided about the pioneers’ choices to utilize the land in selfish ways. The comment about the chalk dust (“whose writing didn’t have to be read before it was erased”) was a great way of illustrating the total lack of respect pioneers had for the land they moved to. They didn’t seem to care at all what was there before they arrived. They didn’t care how the native people were using it before they got there. They cared about their own needs (or wants, rather, since they could’ve gotten along just fine if they had learned to live frugally.)

    Not understanding the land before you decide to use it for selfish or industrialized ambitions is not wise, seeing as how unpredictable the land and nature can be if we work against it and not with it. There are ways to live happily and not make poor planning decisions that will only lead to destruction in the end.

    • Thoughtful reminder that deciding to use the land without knowing anything about it is certainly not wise. And perhaps the dynamic of making of nature what we will (or at least attempting to do so) covers up the lack of knowledge on the part of those who have such goals.

  158. There are so many examples seen every winter where architects and builders have tried to alter the land to their wishes. Houses sliding down hillsides in the Portland area, houses being abandoned along the beach near Yachats because they are falling into the ocean. I’m sure there are many examples of this type of disregard for the layout of natural settings all over the United States.
    I like your analogy to changing nature to the changing of the human body, especially those of women. It is so sad, the body images that are seen as ideal today. And, what is so interesting is that most men will say that image is not desirable to them, but most women see it as the ideal. I think it is so important for parents today to stress the ideal of a healthy body that is strong to support an active lifestyle. Our girls deserve better than what they are being shown today is ideal. It is appalling to me that the breast enhancement has replaced the car as the most sought after graduation gift.

    • Breast enhancement as the most sought after graduation gift is appalling indeed!
      As for human-caused “natural” disasters, climate change is only going to make this worse.
      Thanks for your comment.

  159. This article takes me back only a few years ago to the development boom of Florida where slash and burn were the norm. I was always mourning for the homes which were lost. The growth was literally insane as new roads, and buildings went in, yet no planning for the trapped wildlife in certain areas. We alter the landscape for only human purposes and when it does not work we try to fix it, yet down the road we’re altering another natural landscape. When will western worldviews yield and humbly admit they are wrong.
    So much of Florida has lost its ole world charm and now looks like most other man made landscapes. Erasing nature is the perfect phrase for the smudge left behind. I’m personally glad that the housing industry and the land development firms are out of business – finally. The developer of which you wrote is careless, thoughtless and sees only green; that is money green.

    • Your comment brings to mind another point here, Debora– the way that development wipes out not only natural history but human communities. A good amount of homelessness in the urban environment is due to “urban development” which wiped out low income housing and displaced its tenants.
      And some gorgeous homes build with individual style and old growth lumber have been leveled to the ground for the sake of shopping centers– or now sit empty on a freeway corridor.
      Seems we are as careless about our own history and community as natural ones.

  160. I suppose, this once again, can touch upon the natural order. While I don’t quite go as far as indigenous peoples do in their reverence of the land, but I do in fact believe in a divinely-ordained natural order that should not be infringed upon. As to things like reshaping the land at will to suit development needs, the fact remains that actually knowing the characteristics of the land even from a purely pragmatic standpoint helps-knowing how prone the area is to earthquakes, its slope, the quality of the soil, etc., would actually help in its remaking, so in those regards simply stating the knowledge is unnecessary is rather short-sighted, even from a less “naturalistic” standpoint.

  161. I can understand building a house in a floodplain, the beach, the desert–putting all of your sweat and hard work into achieving that dream or obsession. I can understand the sadness and hopelessness of the homeowner who lost his cabin in a forest fire. But I do not understand picking up the pieces, and giving it another go, rebuilding or modifying, adding cement blocks, instead of recognizing the ecological limitations of the land and moving on. Often, these incidents are labeled as “natural disasters” only because these events destroy what should have never been built there in the first place.

    San Francisco is an example of this, as discussed in my favorite book, “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” by Tom Robbins. I would recommend that you read it, but be warned of the writer’s tongue-in-cheek style. This work of fiction also visits various concepts such as indigenous cultures, ecofeminism, wisdom of plants, cyclical time, and other environmentally-related world views and values.

    • Thoughtful point about placing the irrationality of “giving it another go” once our actions have caused a loss we are tempted to term a “natural disaster”.
      And now San Francisco is one of the leaders in being a municipality that instituted the precautionary principle… If Robbins were still writing, his sense of irony might have found some way to work that into his story.
      I don’t think we can pick up an entire city like San Francisco and move it now– though we can try to be progressive in dealing with current issues–as well as make buildings earthquake safe.
      Of course, there is also the not so small issue that climate change will lead to coastal flooding. I wonder whether we will call that a “natural disaster” when the waters rise into San Francisco and New York.

      • “Natural disaster” implies blaming natural processes for our problems, instead of rightfully holdings ourselves accountable. Cooperation between municipalities, local citizens, and indigenous parties should work together to learn the stories and systems of the land before disturbances occur. With progressive thinking and active prevention or treatment, we may address the issue of rising coastline. If I could pick up where Robbins left off with craftiness in dramatic irony, I would. By promoting social dialogue about these issues in writing, music, visual arts, and social media… the word could certainly travel!

        • And we need that word to travel in every way possible that wakes us up to our responsibility in this issues. Thanks for your follow up here.

        • Great point! I used to feel bad for people who lost homes to natural disaster, and I still do if they could not have prevented it. But, if you build your home near a high tide area or near land that burns naturally then the blame is on you. I think the only way that people will begin to “listen” to the land and research before mutilating it is with government funding and regulation. Government funded research into the ecology of land and custom regulations for diffrent ecologies is the quickest way to change the “build what we want where we want it” philosophy.

        • Yes: and I also think that developers need to be culpable here. I would like to see them take out long term insurance that makes them responsible for their building practices (say landslides and cracked foundations if they are building on steep slopes) after they sell the homes– to get away from this build it, make money and escape subsequent responsibility dynamic.
          Thanks for your comment.

  162. I think that in this discussion it’s important to realize, as was pointed out near the end, that we cannot avoid changing the earth. If we want to have the necessities of life we have to change the earth to some extent by creating homes and using resources. But to do this blindly, as in the example of the developer who intended to reshape the land to his own specifications without really knowing anything about it, is dangerous and usually results in consequences that are both unforeseen and unwelcome.
    I personally believe that some level of change is both inevitable and perfectly acceptable. As an example of change that provides for human needs and yet respects the land, I was looking at the terraced fields used in rice farming throughout Asia. To me, this seems like a good balance because it provides food for people and, although it changes the landscape, it does so with a knowledge of what these crops need and how the land provides that.
    I’m sure everyone has different ideas of what constitutes an acceptable level of change to the earth as we try to provide for ourselves and make use of the abundant resources that the world makes available. But regardless of differing views, every individual has a responsibility to gain as much knowledge as they can about the earth and the possible consequences of their own actions upon it.

    • This is very well put! I also agree that change is inevitable. A change for the better that took place is that before if people are considering building on some land, potential builders are required to get it surveyed to see if it’s environmentally safe to build on it. I think there are still some loop holes on the way the land is surveyed though.

      • You are right about the discretionary parts to many development codes: and that change can be either good or bad… we can make the difference in the critical evaluation we bring to that change. In the case mentioned in this essay, a Eugene neighborhood association provided the critical evaluation the developer overlooked– at considerable costs to themselves.
        It is unfortunate there are not better regulatory watchdogs.

  163. The one pioneer in the Willamette Valley who wiped out the “savage abodes” of his neighbors not only changed the lives of the Indians he displaced (to build a tavern?!), but he also betrayed them after they helped him survive. A very cruel act and no real winners in this situation.

    I like the way you tied remaking our bodies into the discussion of remaking nature. There are so many who are dissatified with nature, i.e., their bodies, and ffel it needs to be “fixed.” This way of thinking is affecting our children, especially girls when it comes to body image. Society has such a distorted view of what the ideal body should look like. And we have the same distorted view of nature. There are so many children in urban areas who have no idea what it feels like to paly in a meadow, or climb a tree, or even to grow a garden.

    • As an ex-Chicagoan, I can tell you that we do have some experiences of nature–rats, mice, and cockroaches. However, I can tell you that I did see red-breasted robins, which I still love to see. For millions of urban children, the only positive experiences we have are when we go to the zoo. Perhaps that explains why I love seeing deer, wild turkeys, blue jays, cardinals, and humingbirds.

      • Thanks for sharing your personal experience here. I understand there are red tailed hawks nesting on building ledges overlooking Central Park in New York–and even coyote sightings within the park. I also understand that there has been some tree planting done there since the years when I lived there to go to school and there were stretches of blocks and blocks without a tree. But there was always the sky, if you looked up between the tall buildings!
        And/or perhaps we good learn to view our own bodies as “nature” as well in the case of Chicago– what about the lake, the sky, the weather (good and bad)?

    • You have a point to ponder in the way in which acts of destruction perpetrated on others often turn out to be acts of self-destruction in the bargain– as in the case of the pioneer you cite here.
      And giving our children the ideas that their bodies need to be “fixed” is also giving them the message that they themselves need to be “fixed”.
      Speaking of distorted views of the ideal body, here is link that just came in my email from those protesting the new Barbies– whose proportions are not only unlikely– but as the header here says, if “she were real, she’d be dead” :
      http://action.sumofus.org/a/skinny-minnie/33/91/?akid=914.165973.0XLpwI&rd=1&sub=fwd&t=3
      Seems Disney is getting into the picture, by making Minne Mouse “barbies”.

      • I just signed the petition, and forwarded it to facebook twitter, and my friends. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to do something worthwhile.

        • You are welcome, Lenore. Thanks for your own effort here! I do know there are some Athasbakan peoples in the Far North who peel and use birch bark in such a way as to intentionally protect the tree from any resulting harm in their use of it.
          I also know that cedars periodically fall– I wonder if fallen trees might be used…

  164. I signed the petition and forwarded the email to my family and friends. What Disney is doing is just disgusting!

  165. I would like to say that this essay has me thinking about what Highway 26 looks like going from the coast into Portland. My mom and I have lived in the Clatsop County area since I was 15. The area is a logging and fishing industry and the profits from the school I attended came from timber revenue. One of the “socially” acceptable practices in land use is clear cutting in that area. As the years go by, I have seen how millions of acres in Clatsop County has been cleared of trees. The summit, near David Douglas looks hideous because the trees along one side of the highway have been clear and every year, there is a section of the highway that gives way and ODOT has to put a sign up that says “Sunken Grade.” I wonder what the idigenous people would say about that. I know I would say it’s definitely maltreatment of the land and overuse of resources. Now all those loggers are having to find other jobs to support their families fed because there is nothing left.

    • I think you can trust your own eyes/heart in viewing these areas, Mary–not to mention, as your comment indicates, there is plenty of slide activity related to clear-cutting. The highway between I-5 and Reedsport has been closed several times due to such slides in the past.
      I am heartened that some local loggers are taking the initiative to develop alternatives- there was a segment on OPB’s Oregon Field Guide on this some years back.

  166. I found it very compelling that you contrasted our desires for how humans change how they look and how also how we try to change the world around us as well. It seems almost as an insecurity, though I’m not sure how to explain it in the terms of the builder.
    It brings a lot to the table in the idea of sustainability. While we can, and very much so do, build in dangerous areas where there are fault lines or high water tables, that doesn’t necessarily mean we should. After all, wouldn’t the corporations and the owners of those homes be losing money because they live in areas where their insurance rates are higher and their houses are in danger of falling away? It seems pointless to live in areas where the ecology rebuilds itself by burning every spring or like where the developer wanted to build even though there are landslides. Of course, the problem is that every place we want to live, there’s always something dangerous that we have to deal with. But sustainable housing has the possibility to not only work with the land, rather than change it, but also save us money and make us safer.
    But fast building urban housing has to come because our population is growing at such a fast rate. I don’t think this is an easy problem with an easy solution. It’s a very multifaceted problem that isn’t just about erasing nature or working around it. We have to take into account that our population is growing too. So now the question is… what can we do?

    • One way to look at the builder is the way that profit derives from the manipulation of nature and body image both– in this case, it is those who are acted upon/ pressured to change that are victims of this process even as they are the occasion for profit on the part of the builders or ad makers.
      Though it is sometimes argued that we need to build in dangerous places to accommodate our growing population, the data does not actually support this in all cases. In Eugene, the “Envision Eugene” data in terms of assuring needed housing for a twenty year future indicated that there was plenty of buildable land that was NOT in danger zones. That land included developed and abandoned land and multi-family housing.
      You indicate the essential question that all of us must answer in the “what should we do?” Recently developers put forth a plan to develop on over a 20 per cent clay based slope next to the Amazon Creek in South Eugene. Once again, the neighbors fought it: even SHOULD this land be needed with respect to the “needed housing standard” (which it actually is not), building on this slope would considerably compromise the houses now situated on the flat land below it in the resulting increased run off and land slides.
      An essential part of what we must do is evaluate the data carefully on a case by case — and be creative about our options. In Portland, there is an architect that has designed multi-family low income dwellings so well that they work against themselves, that is, the price for these keeps going up because higher income folks want to live there…

  167. The developer at the beginning of the story is unfortunately how I believe much of our land development ideology looks like right now. Our mentality is that we can treat land however we want and we will mold it to work for our purposes. This will not work long term as highlighted in the article when discussing houses built with levies due to the tide or fires burning houses. I used to blindlessly think that all of these people were just unfortunate but it was their own arrogance to try and live where the land just doesn’t allow. I am not saying that we should always build around the land or leave it unchanged but the article does a good job of making a distinction between changing the land and disturbing it. We need to recognize that we can be conscious of the land and its needs while still developing it to benefit human needs.

    • And perhaps we might even see a distinction between working with the land– adapting engineering to it rather than either changing or disturbing it. There is a detailed presentation of what engineering has done wrong with respect to the Mississippi River in ONEARTH (spring 2011) with an apt quote on this topic: “This does not mean that we should deny our engineers entirely. We should just suggest that they work with the world and not against it”. See our new “quote of the week” for a bit more about this.

  168. After reading this essay, I can see the correlation between re-shaping the land and re-shaping our bodies with plastic surgery. I wonder if these are really our choices to make. Is it okay or right to re-shape the land, as if it belongs to us? We live in our bodies, but should we alter them with plastic surgery (if we are unhappy with them)? These topics just bring about more questions and other topics for me. Such as, why do we feel the need to alter anything in the first place?
    Women typically alter their body in an attempt to fit the media’s image of ‘beautiful’. Who made the media the deciding factor on what is considered beautiful? Is it not more truly beautiful to love and be proud of your body (in all of its uniqueness)? Personally, I believe it is best to work with the body you have than to alter it. That said, I also feel the same for the land; it is best to work with natural landscape than to re-construct it.

    • Hi Leah, you bring up an important question to ponder: why indeed do we feel the need to alter (or control) anything in the first place.
      And perhaps we can even get beyond “working with the body we have” to celebrating our presence in that body, no matter what its character?
      Sometimes that which is our greatest challenge is also an essential part of who we are.

    • I agree. I do think there is a lot of negative imagery about women’s bodies, making thousand of women uncomfortable. However, I have noticed that the media, at least some women’s magazines are trying to change that image slowly. Many magazines have more ‘plus-sized’ women on their covers and websites and dedicate whole sections of their magazine to women who are proud of who they are and what they look like (whether they are big or small). Sometimes women just can’t see the beauty in themselves. This could be due to the way they were raised or the people that surrounded them. Sometimes, it’s a mental sickness where nothing is good enough.

      • Thoughtful points, Ruth. We are never mere victims of our culture– at the same time, however, we are its shapers, which makes it important to put forth differing values than ones focused on control and appearances.

    • Personally i feel that the land belongs to everybody, but our bodies are more so belonging to us. We get a tattoo or have plastic surgery then we have to live with it not anyone else. With television blowing up the celeb life style women as you mentioned feel the pressure to look like a certain girl and therefore feel pressured to go out and spend the money to look fake. I feel that God all shaped us the way he wanted to and sure people can change here and there, but it just doesn’t seem right to go make yourself look like a barbie doll to impress others, it’s not about whats on the outside, but more so whats on the inside.

      • Nice contrast in terms of ownership, Jason. I think you have a point that our bodies belong to us– in fact, they are such an essential part of our identity that if someone tells us their appearance needs to be “improved” it is an affront to our identity.
        Many cultures have tattoos and different kinds of jewelry or clo9thing as personal self-expression. But that is pretty different from a media that tries to sell us personal well-being based on having the right “stuff”–and reshaped ourselves if we don’t.
        I like your point about each of us being shaped by God (or the Sacred or the Divine, however you understand it)– there are some powerful implications for self-acceptance in that statement. And also, if God created the natural world, for not only accepting but being grateful for that world, its wonder and beauty and the fact that it gives us life.

  169. This article has a valid point. Whenever we expand, we destroy parts of nature in someway. This is seen a lot in parts of Idaho. Many of the farmers that have lived there for generations have found that it is more profitable to sell their land for housing developments than it is to farm the land. Hundreds of identical houses are popping up all over the state. It is also really sad to think this might be inevitable. In 2050, it is expected that the world population will be 9.2 billion. What can the world do with that number of people? Where can they live? How will the earth provide enough natural resources for that many?

    • Thanks for your comments, Ruth. Though over-population is a serious issue, I do want to caution against the idea that sometimes flows from this, that people (especially people of color) are the “problem”. We need to assess both the different effects that different cultures have on their environment and the historical context in which indigenous peoples whose populations have been devastated by colonialism are replacing them–as well as ways in which humans might be a “blessing on the land”– as Malcolm Margolis put it in assessing indigenous practices in northern California instead of its ravager. One thing to note is the central value of those doing the developing: if the main motive is profit, everything in its path is liable to suffer.
      Those who are willing to adapt to the land rather than attempt to change the land for their own benefit provide models we might better follow.

    • You bring up a great point about the rise of population by 2050, but take into consideration that America in general has so many unused resources that it hasn’t used yet and still we rely on Iraq and places near their for oil. It’s not so much the rise in population that worries me. More so it’s the fact of privacy. If and when it reaches that number people will be so clustered together that they mine as well share a bathroom with on another. More and more big cities will start to appear and soon these quiet forests will be humming with traffic. Nature will continue to be destoryed to make room for all these new people similar to the way it happened when the Pilgrams came to the Americas and met the Indians.

      • We certainly don’t need to reproduce until we overrun the land entirely– and there are differing more careful ways to use resources (I don’t necessarily think we can or should use them because they are there– shouldn’t we leave some for the children of the future– of all species?)

  170. Developers are always trying to build houses on beautiful land and unstable land. I do not understand why developers need to rip down a building then to rebuild it again; this is a waste of everyone’s resources. In my neighborhood there was a McDonald’s and a Carl’s Jr. rip down to make way for a newer shinier building. A Wendy’s in my neighborhood is being remodeled, without even tearing down the building, now that’s progress. Chile is a country with may earthquakes and tsunami. After many deaths Chile decided to move all homes away from the beach this was a big step into the right direction. The What is a civilized person? I am still trying to figure that one out.

    “Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area.” A quote from the Matrix.

    • What is a civilized person? That is certainly a key question, and not one we can assume that we are on the right side of without some serious evaluation.
      Are you quoting from the film the Matrix? Do you believe this quote? What are the problems with its implicit “colonial” idea– that is, expanding into someone else’s territory after you use up your own?

    • That is an interesting quote from the movie “Matrix”. One of the main problems (of many) with the implicit colonial idea, of consuming resources to extinction and expanding on to other territories, is that (eventually) all of the resources will be consumed. There will be nothing left and no other viable territories to move to. Society would be doomed to extinction with the patriarchal ‘Matrix’ train of thought. Earth’s population needs to employ sustainable practices and encompass the ability to live with the land we are on, if we wish to thrive.

      • Good reminder of the limits of the natural world– it is self-destructive to keep expanding into more and more resource use, not to mention, unjust to those who may be relying on those resources for their own traditional survival.

  171. I remember reading about that developer and it, in turn, reminded me of the many developers that were going gangbusters everywhere about ten years ago in the resort areas of Delaware which is where I am from. Land was being transferred at dizzying speeds and houses, condos, and apartment buildings were being built so fast I couldn’t even imagine there were enough people in this area to fill them. Well, now that I have returned, I read in the paper everyday on the Sheriff’s sales of many of these properties. Some cannot even be lived in because they were built on land that was not suitable for building and basically the buildings have a moat around them now. There were constant review boards looking over applications to fill in the marshlands, which were protected lands by the way, and some were approved! Now, these destroyed marshes have sinking homes on them that are constantly being flooded. The marsh ecosystem was damaged in the process and the only way to return them to how they were would be to destroy the homes and remove them. Another consequence of the rapid building that happened are homes that are really not built up to code, they have faulty roofs and uneven settling. This area in Delaware has many streams, creeks, bays, and ponds. We are situated on the ocean as well. There are many protected species here but the continuous ‘erasing of nature’ is happening here still. As a child I roamed the deep woods near my home and always came across something new. There were so many tiny waterways and I would watch the tadpoles grow into frogs and see all of the miniscule fish. There were wild berries everywhere and you could just pick and eat as you went along. Now, the woods have been cleared except for a tiny strip so the homes that were built in there feel secluded. The streams and other small waterways were all filled in. Fill dirt came from miles away and was spread everywhere. The owls left, the porcupines are gone, the predator birds are rarely seen, and all that is left it seems are possums and raccoons.

    • It must be sad to come back to a land from which so much life has disappeared, Renee. I can only hope that the insight (and memory) you have can be used to develop (heal?) the world differently, so that other children will be able to experience the delight you (and I) experienced as children.
      The results of the development you describe would be humorous if they were not so tragic– such building must be done with blinders (with a view only to cutting and running after the profit is made).
      Too bad for all of us. I can only hope we learn some lessons and begin to both see and do things differently.

    • Wow what a sad story. Although I haven’t seen anything like that there are hundreds of stories just like yours. Even in Corvallis, there is so much construction. Dozens of new townhouses are being built around town, preparing for an increase in the student population. Everyone is thinking about what we can do to build up the human population but not how to maintain the natural wildlife of the area or the protected species. Possums and raccoons are living in a dangerous area now, often becoming road kill more often than not.

  172. What surprised me is how this developer thought that he could turn this hill into something amazing by changing elements that he couldn’t really control. Sure the walls may have helped with somethings that the environment played on the landscape, but with such disasters common in this area its crazy to imagine what people would do just for a good view of the city. He was almost playing Russian roulet with mother nature and probably wouldn’t win. It’s amazing to see how the Indians compared to people of today. When the waters rose up then the tribe relocated up higher on the hill. People today would not take such pre-cautions into their thinking of things. I thought it was interesting when it said that they knew when the white man came because the river moved.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Jason. From a rational perspective, the developer’s choices are just plain crazy–and perhaps crazier is that they would even be entertained by city planners who might permit such development. Fortunately, the development plan was ultimately rejected.
      Russian roulette is a good analogy here– though the risks are assumed by those who buy the houses after the developer is long gone, so it seems he would never face the consequences of his choices. Perhaps the irrational is easier to overlook if you get paid for doing so…

  173. It is sad that so many people can think they can make something better than nature. I wonder how many of these developers later stand in these city’s and wonder themselves why the building don’t give the same presence that the trees once did that stood there before. In my opinion, I don’t think man can make anything nearly as great as the natural world, whether it be land or our bodies. Why destroy something unique for something that can be made over and over again? I hope we as humans figure out how to live with nature rather than dominating nature before everything around us is strictly man made.

    • Thinking we can make something better than nature (and in a shorter timespan?) is certainly a sign of human arrogance–and human failings, since as you note, what we replace a gorgeous forest with often pales in comparison.
      I love your question, “why destroy something unique for something that can be made over and over again” (with cookie-cutter regularity).
      Why, indeed?

    • Gina,
      People can destroy something unique and beautiful because we live in a disposable world. Unfortunately, most things that we choose to surround ourselves with can be replaced. It is a sad concept that someone can see beauty and in the same breathe destroy it and become enthralled in the next “thing”.

      • Living in a “disposable world” allows our GNP to rise, but undermines the quality of our lives in spite of all the advertising hype about buying the “new” and “better” and disposing of the old.
        And when we try to dispose of history and its lessons, we are truly flying blind– as well as, as you point out, missing the beauty in the world around us.

  174. I really liked towards the end of your essay when you said “change is not the same thing as disturbance–and certainly not the same thing as obliteration.” This is an essential concept that I wish people would grasp and agree on. Change can be good and change can be bad. It depends on how change is put into affect. I also really liked what you said about people being nature and related people getting plastic surgery/ make-overs in respect to how we give our land a make-over. I mean I would like to improve myself, I don’t think my body is perfect, but really I just want to be healthy and fit, and I can work with nature to do what is best for my body. I don’t need machines, injections or anything of that sort to change me for the better. To relate this to nature, we should work with nature and what we are given. We don’t need to disturb it by cutting into it and obliterating the habitats of all the animals that inhabit it. As I mentioned, change can be a positive thing, as you said in your essay, we should become partners with nature, bond with the organisms that we share our Earth with and work together as a family.

    • Thanks for reminding us about these distinctions, Danielle. Change in our current context is not only a positive but necessary thing– which is not at all the same thing as disturbing and obliterating our environment- but instead healing it.
      Congratulations on honoring your body as the gift it is.

  175. As I read this essay I keep thinking about the flooding of Celilo Falls. This intentional change to the environment severely impacted the native people of the area. This is a great example of change in the name of progress. But what did we destroy in the process? We can be selfish creatures and at times only think of the land as the vision of what we want it to be. It’s a frame of mind, that is always looking for something better than it already is.

    • The flooding of Celilo Falls is an example of the collateral damage to both nature and nature’s peoples being set aside in the rush for “progress” — without assessing what the term actually means.
      So many indigenous people lost their natural and spiritual homes as a result of this flooding.
      Large dams being built or proposed in global arenas today need to be assessed both in terms of long term potential damage to the environment–and immediate damage to those who live in areas to be flooded. Indeed, given the natural fertility of river bottom lands, such flooding is destroying some of the best traditional farmlands in the world. In the case of Celilo, it destroyed one of the best salmon fishing stations in the world– whose peoples had protected and nurtured local salmon runs so that they produced seven times the modern take in a sustainable fashion. (See Jim Lichatowich’s Salmon without Rivers for the historical survey of this).

    • I live in The Dalles, OR. I am way to young to have had the privilege of seeing the Falls, however I have seen photos. It is amazing how much you can miss something you never knew. The Dalles Dam not only flooded the falls, and a village that had been inhabited for thousands of years, but has also contributed to the severe loss in the salmon runs. I find it silly that within the last few years there has been major development just east of the dam, right at the river’s edge. There is an extension of the hospital, and a set of condos built there. These were built so close to the river, in fact that any flooding whatsoever is going to at least cause flood damage to the buildings. Heaven forbid there is major flooding, goodness know what could possibly happen to then. All that mattered to the developers though was that they were making money. They were/are sure that the dam will protect their buildings from danger. Just like the levees in New Orleans protected portions of that city from damage.

      • I also have heard that the properties of cement are that it continues to harden for something like 20 years– but then it weakens after that until it starts to give way. I know that Oregon has barely a “passing” grade on the dams and bridges that engineers have assessed for continued safety- since they don’t last forever.

  176. The blank slate idea reminds me of a geology class I took. While we were studying the effects of river meandering and deposition, my professor mentioned that a few decades ago engineers were going through the forests and straightening streams of all sizes in order to increase the quantity of water flowing into the larger rivers that could then be used for irrigation. Apparently none of these engineers foresaw the massive increase in erosion of the land, the lowering of the water tables below or overall detriment to the forests. He then followed up that more recently the same company of engineers has to go back in and re-curve the streams in order to fix these problems as nature was unable to do so because humans had scarred the land so badly. It amazes me that we can do things that so drastically change the natural environment because it suits us, but then hold areas such as Yellowstone in such high regard for their natural beauty. Not to say that these areas should not be protected, they absolutely should, just that humans are extraordinarily hypocritical when it suits their own agendas. We need to learn that the planet has figured out a way to regulate itself, and that that is probably the best way since it has been around much longer than we have.

    • Another great example of hindsight, Rachel. Wouldn’t it be great if we stopped such damage before it started by exercising precaution?
      Not everything that seems like a good thing to humans on first glance turns out that way in natural systems–such as the example of straightening out the course of all these streams that you mention. I am happy to witness that this mistake is being remedied in some cases by the addition of debris that slow down stream course and allow shade and fish habitat.
      As you rightly remind us, ecological systems have taken a very long time indeed to balance and weave their parts into effective and self-sustaining workings– it takes more than a little hubris to think our first take at “fixing” them makes them better.

  177. It is sad to see that a developer of homes that will be built for people, would have such little worry about the safety of its inhabitants. I cannot believe that he would want to take down a forest that is more likely preventing more soil erosion. This is a horrible destructive idea that only has one thing in mind “progress”. There is no regard for nature or the humans that will be inhabiting these new homes.
    The remaking of our natural world, is a clear example of the dominance we try to assert over it. As we alter rivers by building dams nature reminded us of her presents by causing massive floods in areas where floods had never happened before. We build walls to prevent the ocean from destroying homes that are build on the oceans natural course. We have seen numerous times were these wall fail. Nature seem to always prevail. If you take the time to notice how nature reacts to these unnatural changes you will see that natural always finds a way back. Take you ordinary sidewalks as a example, pay attention to how the grass and flowers start to grow through the cracks. Nature is relentless and cannot be stopped. It is sad that we will learn this the hard way by having our homes and building start to crumble under the roots of nature. It may take decades, but the natural world always prevails.
    If the developer gets his way and is able to start building. He will either be faced with massive erosion, or is disastrous outcome that may not come now but in the next couple decades. Nature always prevails and he is altering what nature has put in place to keep disasters under control.

    • You have an essential point here, Laura, in stating that there is disregard in such developments for both humans and the natural environment. These disregards are obviously intertwined when the profit motive overtakes everything else.
      As per grass growing through cement, I love the Malvina Reynolds song, “God bless the grass (that grows through the cracks”).
      Unfortunately, it is not the developer who will be faced with erosion problems, as he will be long gone– but the homeowners and the city (in handling the stormwater– since there are federal standards as to what cities can discharge). What we need are regulations that make developers responsible for such things– hitting them in their pocketbooks may discourage such development.

  178. The idea that we can overcome nature is one that is seen extensively. The thought process of the developer at the beginning of the essay is the same thought process that caused thousands of people to lose their homes after hurricane Katrina. I will never understand why we choose to build our cities in areas that have a potential to be destroyed by natural causes. I recently learned of the volcanic history of Mt Rainier. If there was a major eruption (of which is likely at least eventually) much of the city scape between the mountain and the Puget Sound will be destroyed. I live in a small town on the Columbia River, our local hospital just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars building a new building right below The Dalles Dam. On a normal day there is maybe 10-15 feet between the ground floor of this building and the top of the river. The next year that we get record amounts of snow fall, and there is going to be flood damage to that building. Try as we might, we can’t completely rewrite nature, nor should we. All we are doing in the mean time is causing ourselves discomfort.

    • I would like to comment on your point about hurricane Katrina. I went to New Orleans after the hurricane to do recovery clean up. I took around at all the damage and thought about the same thing. How could we be so dumb to build a city here when all these lives are at risk? A few years later I visited Haviland, Kansas. There was still tornado damage from 5 years before that. I could not believe why someone who want to live in a place where everything could be destroyed and they could not do a single thing to stop it. But that is the circle of life I guess. I am from California and there was a huge earthquake the year before I was born that brought down our Church. The possibility of these disasters is the price we have to pay for living in these beautiful environments. All over the country there are different possibilities of natural disasters. On the Oregon Coast there are tsunami warning sign, but people still live there. Nature is going to take its course we just have to learn how to adjust around it.

      • Examples to ponder, Sara. There is obviously some risk wherever we place human homes– unless you take the tack of the local indigenous peoples here in the Pacific Northwest and move in season. Note quite possible in modern cities… but adaptive response to natural systems is important. This becomes more of a challenge when we are facing climate change that multiplies weather hazards such as flooding and tornadoes. If we cut back our carbon emissions, we would help vulnerable residents. Also there is something to consider in the fact that many of those in most vulnerable situations are our lowest income citizens.

    • I really don’t like that people think that nature is something to conquer, it’s there and it’s beautiful, don’t mess with it. Our cities are an eyesore, though they are beautiful in their own way but nature is naturally here, it is meant to be here. I’m sorry about your home, I hope that it all turns out alright.

    • The idea that we can “overcome nature” is bizarre when you look at it closely. Are we planning to overcome our own bodies? The sources of our own subsistence? It takes considerable hubris to think that we can outdo natural systems that have thousands of years to develop.
      Greed seems to be blinding indeed.

  179. I think what is so unfortunate about our society is that people are mainly concerned with the now. They do not try to look in the future and see how the actions we take could affect others. Just as this developer knows he will make money now, and later someone else can deal with his poor judgement. It is a selfish world that we live in and I do not see this changing anytime soon. It honestly makes me sad to think that people are more concerned with how much money they are going to make then the well being of our planet and those living here. Even if the affects will not happen in our lifetime they could affect our children and our grandchildren. Nothing goes unpunished.
    I live in a small beach town in California. There are many homes that live right on the edge of the water that I have always admired since I was a little kid. But even in my lifetime, there have been many changes to those homes due to erosion. Yes it is beautiful to live on the edge of a cliff where you look out to the ocean, but is that worth it if in less then 20 years the land you live on is starting to crumble away? These houses go for millions, but realistically they are not the safest and most reasonable spot to build a home.

    • Excellent perspective about looking at short term rather than long term goals– and especially, effects on future generations.
      Part of the issue is that we think we can partition our world according to time and space rather than seeing the vast network of interdependence that we belong to.

  180. What really effects me here is the way in which you address nature and our bodies. I never looked at it in this way but to think about it, it’s really true, we think that we can improve nature, like its something to fix, when really we are the ones who need to be fixed. Not our bodies like many people in the world think, but rather our minds and the ways that we look at the world need to be changed. We have a skewed perception of the world, rather than looking at it as something to fix, we need to see it as something beautiful, the way that it truly is.

    • Thoughtful response, Kelsey. Thank you.

    • We tell our girls this all the time. It’s so important to get out of the cynical mindset of never being good enough, especially to teens (we have two, both girls) I stress that they don’t need to look/act/smell/be like everyone else, just to be themselves and that makes them beautiful no matter what. I wish I could make more of the world realize that…but then I guess there would be a lot less money in TV, media, cosmetic “medicine” and the like…..

      • Great parenting tactic, Kristin. We need more patents to do this–until there isn’t profit to be made off the insecurity of teenagers.
        I know that it may be a challenge for a single family to convince their daughters of this on their own– but it is an essential place to start.

    • I agree with you. People need to learn to like themselves for the way they are. There is no need to alter ourselves to the stero-types that society has created. Why spend money on plastic surgery when you could spend that money on helping and maintaining the environment.

      • And why risk plastic surgery as well (except in case of severe burns or other accidents that call for reconstructive surgery)– plastic surgery is responsible for a substantial number of deaths each year. And even for those who do not go to the extreme of surgery, there is energy drained away from their lives as they work to be someone other than who they are.

  181. I live in Florida. Obviously, erosion and the like is an issue here as it is with any coastal state/town. However, with hurricanes and climate change (bringing more storms) and humanmade changes, Florida is literally disappearing! I spent a summer in High School living at the beach in a friend’s condo while our house was having some repairs done. During the months we were there, the city was doing some ‘replenishing’ where they lay these enormous pipes on the beach, and out to sea, and pump sand and other things from the bottom of the ocean onto the land in order to ‘erase’ the erosion and damage that has been done. They do this every few years, to extend the life of the land that is our state. I hate it! It is unnatural, and it rips all the sealife from a happy home and dumps it on the land where nothing will live! it changes the water, it disrupts miles and miles and miles of life cycles and natural processes. It makes me ill just thinking about it.

    • It really is amazing the lengths that some societies go to keep nature the way that they want it. Your discussion reminds me of the islands that were built in Dubai. What sorts of issues are potentially going to arise in the future for the businesses that have built on these constructed islands? There seems to be no end to the extent some people will go to transform nature into what they want it to be.

      • Good question to ponder, Aryn. There are always consequences to our re-engineering of the natural world that we need to consider (since we will face them in the long term, one way or another).

    • I understand that climate change and development not only brings more hurricanes– but more severe ones. Warmer ocean waters lead to increased wind speeds and the mangrove swamps that used to ameliorate hurricanes on their way onshore are now largely gone. (In the few places where they remained in tact in the path of Hurricane Katrina, the hurricane did little damage).
      As for the “land extension” thrust you describe, this only makes those new developments sitting ducks for future storms. This is certainly a case where lack of care for others lives is self-destructive to humans in the long term.

  182. I live in a small town full of so called “rednecks”, just because a good portion of the town lives on property and wears carhartt and camo. Though this stero-type may be fairly accurate, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. As these so called “rednecks” care about their property (land) and don’t want it to be erased. More people need to respect the environment. People should not view it as a “blank slate” or something that can be “erased”. Instead people should view as something we can sculpt or mold into something better but we need to keep some of its original beauty.

    • We need to get beyond stereotypes based on class, Hannah. Small scale loggers have pioneered sustainable logging in Oregon, and ranchers in Montana have pioneered shared habitat usage that allows grizzlies to travel through their property.

  183. I appreciate your line “change is not the same thing as disturbance.” Too often I have found the counter argument to some environmental stance has been that we are going to alter the Earth anyway, so we might as well get what we need. Your point, though is very well stated – we will change the land, plants, others, simply through our own existence, but that change does not have to be to the detriment Of the others that we come into contact with. I am also reminded of some discussions about vegetarian diets. People who seem offended by my choice to refrain from eating animals remind me that plants are alive and so I am killing them to eat. I think the above statement from this essay works well in this case too. I may be causing a change, but I am minimizing the disturbance (or at least I hope so).

    • Thanks for examples that emphasize the difference between disturbance and change, Micki. One thing we need to do, of course, in order to avoid disturbance is to know enough about ecosystems to understand what would be a disturbance so we can avoid it.

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