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Bill McKibben’s “Consuming Nature” [July 2000] shed new light on a period of my past. In my twenties, I reveled in experiencing natural places: sweating in the heat of the Nevada desert, hitchhiking through the Sierras in the snow, poking around the edge of the San Francisco Bay at low tide with foghorns blasting. Those times were sandy, blistering, insect-ridden — and fun. I loved them, but I knew they couldn’t last forever.
Now I have a new nature to experience, one that can’t be erased with air conditioning or Malathion or credit cards. Its tedious name is “chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome and fibromyalgia,” but my body doesn’t care what it’s called. Being ill has made me a nonproducer (except of squash plants and poems), and a nonconsumer (except of herb tea and Salvation Army clothing). I’m living on nothing while waiting for the Social Security system to decide if I really am too sick to work.
Meanwhile, every day I awake to scorching deserts of pain, snowy mountains of fatigue, and bug-infested swamps of depression, all right here in my own body. I love them, too.
I found Bill McKibben’s “Consuming Nature” [July 2000] intelligent, entertaining, and thought-provoking. What at first seemed to be just another story about grass-roots activism deepened into an exploration of the meaning of consumption: that any choice one can make is technically just another brand of consumption, but some choices lead to improved quality of life — and not just for ourselves, but for numerous species, for the earth itself.
Like McKibben, I live in challenging circumstances: the high altitude of my hometown means difficulty sleeping, snowstorms until June, bears in the garbage, hellish hail pummeling my annual excuse for a garden, and cold, cold, cold. But there are also unparalleled joys: breathtaking light and ever changing vistas, a lack of crowding and near absence of crime, the tender golden aspen against a surreal blue sky. One might say that McKibben’s flies are my altitude.
The close of McKibben’s story, while not conclusive, suggested hope that others will begin to make better choices as “consumers.” I was encouraged to find that unexpected numbers of his town’s inhabitants seemed headed in the direction of noninterference with nature, rather than immediate self-centered gratification.