Sunday Photo Essay: Human Nature

Human Nature

Listening to one of my favorite radio shows not long ago I was gobsmacked by this notion: we often think of nature as separate from us, a thing we must protect, else destroy. But the truth is, we humans are also part of nature, and not separate from it. I latched onto that notion right away, because it somehow redeemed my unrelenting love of the built environment: the structures that we humans envision and create, adding a layer on top of the nature we’re part of.

Some of what we make is beautiful, but there is still plenty of ugliness to go around. Chef David and Scout-the-Labish and I are making our home in a town where some days you feel you must scratch and claw to find your way to the beauty. Bennington, Vermont: I call it scrappy. A colleague grew up here and is now raising his own family here. We’ve talked about this a lot, especially now that this is my—our—community. He observed that Bennington built its fortune historically on manufacturing, now all but gone. So the survival of this town now hangs in the balance, and the question is this: in the absence of industry, can we define ourselves in some other way?

The Walloomsac River flows through the town, a river that powered industry historically; a tiny fraction of industry survives, but the river prevails. Sometimes beauty collides with ugliness. And where the two are conjoined is a dissonance that adds interest to the landscape. Everywhere is the river, and everywhere are the state’s namesake Green Mountains, maybe our last best hope for survival. Today I found plenty of hope and despair in the place I call home.

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