When Nature Isn’t “Nice”

Beacon, NY (yes, that’s a car under that tree limb and snow)

I spend most of my time lauding the benefits of nature because I believe strongly that they are many, and that on the whole, connecting with nature benefits us as individuals and as a species.

I do, however, want to acknowledge the recent major natural disasters in Haiti and Chile, as well as a disaster on a MUCH smaller scale in my town of Beacon, NY and the surrounding area*. Some people may be offended that I even mention our recent snowstorm in the same breath, but what can I say? We tend to be more affected by what’s close to home, and sometimes that makes us more empathetic with people who are going through much much much worse.

Ever since the earthquake struck Haiti, I’ve been trying to decide whether to do a blog post about it, and if so, what to say. I don’t want to be in complete denial about the destructive side of nature. When all of this horrible stuff is going down, it feels a bit surreal to be offering suggestions about “how to survive the winter” by forcing branches to bloom early (don’t even have to cut them now, just wander around town picking up debris!). And yet at the same time, my job is not to tell you when the sky is falling. Plenty of people already do that. My job is to focus on the positive and on the healing.

I will say is that as “cruel” as nature seems to be sometimes, part of what comforts me is knowing that there is no bad intention behind it. Nature is just nature. Most of the time, it provides oxygen and water and things to eat, as well as beauty and solace and all of those less immediate, tangible things that create a good quality of life for us. And then sometimes – WHAM. Throughout history, nature has been alternately and somewhat cyclically glorified and vilified. But I feel pretty strongly that there’s no malevolence behind the destruction, no evil intent. It is what it is and it ain’t nothin’ else.

In addition to donating money toward relief efforts, we can also use whatever skills we have to pitch in. For example, as designers and gardeners, we can work on pro bono/volunteer projects in our communities at any time. There is always a need, and people will always be happy to benefit from our knowledge, skills, and sweat equity. And even in disaster situations, there is much we can do. Architecture for Humanity has been providing design and construction services for over ten years now, including reconstruction in Haiti. I’m sure they’ll be in Chile in no time, too. Some other good examples are Designers Without Borders, the Design Altruism Project, and of course Habitat for Humanity. And for you altruistic designers out there, here’s a good book to start with: Do Good Design: How Designers Can Change the World, by David E. Berman.

As always, I welcome your comments.

*Two consecutive snowstorms, both with very wet, heavy snow, caused major damage to trees and power lines, leaving over 150,000 people without power for several days. A man was killed by a falling tree limb in Central Park, one of several storm-related fatalities in the region.