Careless Nature



    AFTER all, Nature takes very little thought of herself. It is our human minds that are retrospective, brooding, careworn. One may question whether it were not better largely to forsake our habit of questioning and live more like the creatures. If wisdom lies inside the door of studious thought, madness is also sleeping there; and the mortal who knocks does so at his peril. We may become as gods to know good from evil; but are we sure that happiness inheres in that knowledge?
    Once having turned his gaze inward, and discovered himself, man is in the perplexity of those adventurous souls who leave the old world and emigrate to the new. Having come to their destination, the novelty and [Page 127] spirit and brightness of the fresh life fascinate and hold them for a time; then they tire of it, and long for the old home, where they are sure they will be happy once more. The same restless longing that sent them forth on the quest, sends them back again, seekers still. So “over the sea the thousand miles” they fare after a few years, with their hearts set on the old ways, the old customs, the old friendships, the old simple life. Do they find it? Not at all. The old country is not only different from the new; it is different from its old self; it has changed, they think, while they were away. And yet it has not changed; it is they themselves who have been changed by their experience. For it is not altogether true that “coelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt;” and travel does unfold and modify the mind. Having beheld new worlds, we cannot be as we were before. So our emigrants find themselves as dissatisfied with the old home as they were with the new. Thenceforth they live for ever the victims of distraction [Page 128], touched with uneasiness if they remain in the old world, not wholly at rest if they reëmigrate to the new.
    Is this our mortal predicament since we left the green world of nature and entered the gray world of thought? Do we not every day long to return, and tell ourselves tales of the sweet simplicity of that natural life? Do we not profess to despise the self-conscious and introspective existence? And what is our love of the trees and the birds, the sea and the hills and out-of-doors, but a hankering for the old creature life?
    Go into the park or the woods any morning now, and listen until you hear a single rainbird soloing plaintively above the dimmer sounds. At that one touch of wild wood magic, how uncontemporaneous and primitive we become! How little matter our worldly state, our clothes and carriages, our bills and bank accounts! That is a strain which pierces to the heart and plays upon the soul. It finds us as we are, not as we seem [Page 129]. And unless we are wholly corrupted and sodden with civilization, it wakens glimmerings of the golden age within us, making us

            “walk the earth in rapture;
        Making those who catch God’s secret
        Just so much more prize their capture.”

    As that pealing cadence thrills on the damp air, the world is renewed for us; we pass backward a thousand years to the morning of earth, before care and sorrows were begotten, before ever we bethought ourselves of retrospect or inquiry [Page 130].