Issue 228 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


Jim Ralston’s piece on Thoreau and the death of Nature [“Leaving Walden Pond,” October 1994] gives rise to an equally troubling thought: as we destroy Nature, we destroy Time. Although we have invented machines to give us more time by removing us from the hazards of Nature, we find ourselves with less time than ever. We fall victim to stress as a result of our inability to realize that Nature produces Time as surely as the rain forests produce oxygen.

I think Thoreau was aware of this connection, and removed his home (but not his real and vivid self) from the life of the American town because he knew that the natural world of Walden would lengthen his days and allow him to live more fully. Thoreau’s eventual return to civilization had in it a bit of surrender, as does our mass migration from rural America into towns, cities, and suburbs.

That surrender has its price: we feed the ravenous economic engine, fueling its need to continually gain speed. As more and more of the world’s inhabitants, weary of chronic malnutrition, violence, and political and economic instability, make the irresistible decision to purchase our goods and live as we live, more swaths of Nature are removed.

It’s too simplistic to say that one clear-cut acre of rain forest makes watches in São Paulo run a little faster, but it’s all too true that we excise chunks of Nature and replace them with things to do, things to buy.

Einstein understood that Time and Nature are identical twins. We cannot rip Nature up from its roots without shortening our days — both on the faces of our watches and on the face of this earth.

David Gottlieb Denver, Colorado

Unfortunately, Jim Ralston is too accurate in his vision of what lies ahead. Squint though I may, I cannot persuade myself there is any capital-N Nature left; not when the oysters from Apalachicola Bay come with warnings concerning the spread of diseases down the Chattahoochee River from the sewer systems of Atlanta and Columbus; not when the beaches of North Carolina and New Jersey are festooned with syringes and other medical debris; not when the tops of New Mexico’s mountains are razed for minerals. As a people, we left Thoreau’s pond just about the same time Henry David did.

George C. Smith Jr. Naples, Florida

A while back I had one of those illuminating experiences that put your entire life in a new perspective. Instead of hiring a shrink to listen to the tale, I stayed up three days and two nights, typing and drinking black coffee and cheap wine. My judgment was so impaired by chemicals and lack of sleep that I put the whole mess in an envelope and sent it to The Sun.

After I slept it off, I felt miserable. I wondered how to retrieve that wad of self-indulgent drivel before someone actually read it. After two or three months of constant and excruciating humiliation over my idiocy, I received the most beautiful thing I will ever own: a rejection letter from The Sun, along with a paragraph critiquing the piece and a note encouraging further submissions. I walked on clouds for weeks; it was better than any love letter. I have never had a success as fulfilling, rewarding, and personally affirming as my rejection by The Sun. I plan to be rejected on a regular basis.

Karen Brown Fullerton, California

I liked Jim Nollman’s “The Sentient Garden” [September 1994] because the author allowed for views other than his own. Nollman stated his case, but recognized the possibility of error — an openness that’s unusual in matters of faith.

If faith is strong enough, truth becomes irrelevant. But if truth is important, then we must consider probabilities. Cabbages have no known sense organs to receive messages sent by humans. Nor do they have central nervous systems capable of interpreting those messages. Nor have they time to learn how to act on such messages. Thus, although it remains possible that cabbages understand and act on our attempts to communicate with them, the chances of this being the case are infinitely slim.

Years ago I wrote an editorial about dragons. The premise was that no one can prove dragons do not exist. The problem with sentient gardens is exactly the same.

Edmond I. Eger II, M.D. San Francisco, California
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