The dirt road by the cottage leads me almost daily into the bushes. I seem unable to pass the raspberries that hang like bright ornaments, final gifts from branches that have turned brown.
I reach out for one small handful, easing the fragile fruit from its core. And then I am caught, following the crop, migrating from one bush to another, deep again in the middle of a field.
I am not the only worker in this space, just the largest. To the right of me, three bees mine a stalk of goldenrod with the concentration of a road crew working a jackhammer. Nearby, a monarch butterfly lights on one wild flower and then another and another in a flight of indecision. The sounds of insects and birds surround me in a quadraphonic breeze.
In most ways, we workers are oblivious to each other, each intent on business. There is enough here for all of us, and we coexist easily.
I come to the field for the berries. But also for something rarer, this sense of coexistence. I make a peaceful entrance into the natural order. I am not harnessing it, but am simply in it.
I have a sense of well-being here that is rare in my urban world. In the cities and suburbs, people are exempt from most of the rhythms of the world. Perhaps we are hostile to them. We put up screens and windshield wipers. Our air comes conditioned and our days and nights come from the electric company.
The corner of the office where I work has no windows. The climate is what they call controlled. I can be there all day without knowing if it's hot or cold outside. I commute in a machine on pavement, following the directions or red and green lights. My work day is determined by a clock that remains the same through all tides, moons and seasons.
A friend who is an anthropologist tells me that there are two sorts of cultures. In one, humans feel aloof from nature. The natural world is their raw material, something that may prove useful to them. In the other cultures, humans describe a place for themselves in the natural order. You can tell the so-called advanced civilizations, she says, by how far they have retreated from the earth.
Well, I suppose that is true. I suppose we are the civilized people. Our own country was built by nature's conquerers, not coexisters. Our short history is dominated by people who made things--bridges, houses, roads, cars, computers--out of mountains, forests, earth. In our economy the tree is timber, and coal is fuel, and even the river is energy.
Here, we are all manufacturers in one subtle way or another. We call ourselves creative only when we recreate nature with our own hands. We are like gardeners who turn bushes into topiary, photographers who review the world in rectangles, writers who reshape experiences into columns.
I live most of the year in this modern urban world. I choose a roof over my head and central heating and a word processor. I am hardly a nature girl. I do not like the place I have been assigned in the mosquito's food chain.
Yet there are times when our separation from the rest of the world feels like alienation. There are times when it seems peculiar that we have to travel to special preserves--parks, islands, countrysides, bushes--just to recover a sense of belonging. It's peculiar that we have to leave work and cities in order to see the world for what it is, not for what we can do with it.
The small pot by my side soon will be full. My co-workers, still preoccupied with their tasks, won't even notice my departure. Perhaps tonight, in the cottage, I will do what people do, make something--jam--of these raspberries. But right now I am content to be here, in my place.