“The Scale of the Human Enterprise”

I was walking up a field this morning, a few miles from home. I’m not sure whose field it is, actually; it must be private, but the City of Lake Oswego has installed trailposts that imply I may walk there. In a country without a right-of-way system, this is catnip to walkers.

I’ve wandered in (and around) this particular field several times a week since, oh, midsummer?, and never yet seen another human. I don’t see or hear much life at all, in fact: song sparrows singing their claims; chicory bluer than a flawless midmorning sky; one robin, today, lilting far out of season. Coyote scat, plenty of that, and today one coyote, utterly surprised to see me, stealing, as we went our separate ways, as many curious over-shoulder glances as I did myself.

But these are rare moments in a place I’ve come to realize is silent as the grave. There are hardly any bugs, for example. I don’t love bugs and spiders, but I appreciate that we need them: pollinators, predators, weaving this web of life where all of us balance. And the birdsong is thin. I’ve known many a dawn chorus, and it’s a tapestry of sound to inspire awe. I never hear anything like it in this lovely field, nor anywhere near my present home, in fact.

So this was my contemplation as I queued up my morning podcast. Once the sun’s clear of the ridgelines and most folks are in their cars on the way to work, there’s a lot less listening the contemplative ear can do to the natural world. My borrowed fields abut a public trail that parallels the route of local commute. So the second half of my morning walk is radio.

I’d chosen Krista Tippett’s interview for OnBeing of Michael McCarthy, British environmental journalist. It’s called Nature, Joy, and Human Becoming, and while it is, indeed, joyful in part, I mostly found it deeply melancholy. It treats, among other subjects, with exactly the thinning I spoke about above — only universally.

And there’s something in particular McCarthy says that I can’t get out of my head and out of my heart, because when he said it, I was walking up that field, and the sky imprinted itself on those words, so that both words and sky are alive inside me. Alive — or dying.

This is it:

“…this is not just a point we’ve arrived at. It’s a direction of travel. 

So the scale of the human enterprise is mammoth and gargantuan,

but it’s going to get very much bigger.”

And this was my view for that statement. Edited, of course, so that what I see on camera reflects the way I was feeling the moment through my eyes:


I’m not sure I can recommend, for personal happiness, engaging your thoughts deeply with any of this. But I do have a growing faith in contemplation itself as a sanitizing, and perhaps a healing force. And I do believe we must engage these questions, because the very idea of a choice to see or not see is…well, it’s thinning.

3 thoughts on ““The Scale of the Human Enterprise”

  1. Pingback: Duck, Duck, Goose – Conversations with Landscape

  2. I have gone over from landscape to wildlife photography in this, my 70th year. Your comments catch me coming and going: The landscapes are encroached by the blind business of humans, and the wildlife dwindles as its simple wildness is complicated to distraction by the blind business of humans.

    All I wanted to do was see simply again. Without the ache and echo of aches that plague the blind business of humans.

    I guess that simplicity is reserved for the dead. And only the righteous among the dead at that., if you believe James Joyce or Dante. But that’s a note for another keening wail.

    You are ok. I hear you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s true, we can’t escape it. We do create beauty and amplify wild voices along the way as we engage it — like your photography.

      It strikes me, reading your thoughts, that our, humans’, simple wildness is equally endangered. That’s something else McCarthy said in the interview: humans used to be wild creatures too, we’ve just forgotten.


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