Why I Don't Like the Word Nature

I'm a Pagan. And I don't like to use the word nature.

While many might call Paganism nature-based, I prefer the term earth-based. Nature simply leaves out too much, and implies a separation between humanity and everything else. For context, I do live close to a city, and maybe I would feel differently about the word if I lived a more rural existence.

When we speak the term nature, we commonly mean the green things: trees, grass, mountains made green by forests, the wide expanse of the ocean. We often infer wildness and include in our meaning animals and insects that live on and because of the green things. But wild green things represent an amorphous group over there, disconnected from me and my life. Nature exists in the American-made wilderness preserves and city parks that we must go to, a vacation spot or destination.

By the word nature, we sometimes mean anything-not-human-made. This expands the term nature from some green stuff over there to the plants that interweave within the sidewalks and concrete of the city. Nature can be found in the landscaping, the fountains, and the humming birds that somehow make it on to a rooftop garden six stories above the fray. This nature is relatable, visible, in the field of the everyday even in a large cityscape.

But it still leaves out the buildings, the cars, the molecules in laboratories, our own bodies. Are these nature? This isn't usually what we mean by the term. My rub with the word comes in here - we are nature. Nature means nothing unless it means everything. As a Pagan, I want to place myself within the greater world and find my place here. I want to understand how I embody the earthly elements of earth, air, fire, and water. I cannot do that if I'm constantly, unconsciously contrasting myself to these elements every time I use the word nature synonymously with "non-human."

If we are nature, just as much as the birds, the trees, the running water, then everything we create is also nature. Denying this separates us from the earthly world which we inhabit daily, whether we exist in the urban city or rural countryside. I want to piece the world back together, regaining a sense of the livingness of all things. I can't do this with the word nature. It builds a wall between me and the living world.

I still don't have a good word to replace nature, and maybe I never should. Words like trees and buildings do take a broad sweep, but at least it gives what I'm talking about form and shape. It creates a relatable vision in my imagination, and starts the move from thing to being. I hope to be even more descriptive in my language - Coastal Live Oak tree, James L. Flood building - which might begin to allow for my relationships to individuals to flow through my writing.

When I talk about my religion, I prefer earth-based to nature-based as a descriptive term. What Paganism is really about for me is my spiritual relationship to the earth, our home. More precisely, the religion is about linking humanity back into the web of relationships that exist on the planet and beginning to see ourselves again as integral members of the earth community. Humanity, and all of our creations, are not separate or isolated from that which we call nature in polite conversation. We are nature, through and through.