I was once struck by the short story “To Build a Fire” by Jack London. The main character is traveling with his dog through northwestern Canada on a very cold day (-59 °C). One day the traveler falls knee-deep in water. He recalls an old man who warned him that no man should travel alone in the Klondike if the temperature is below -46 °C. Further events illustrate why. I won’t spoil it — the story is too good.
Only a city dweller spoiled by the benefits of civilization could come up with the absurd idea that nature is a kind and affectionate mother. Sitting at a laptop in a cafe or strolling along the paths of a park, it is easy to fall into the illusion that the world around us unconditionally loves us and longs to make us happy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nature doesn’t care about us. It will bite, trample, and swallow anyone who lets their guard down and is naive about it. Our ancestors understood this and therefore made heroic efforts to fence off its ferocity with a high and reliable “fence”. Our usual parks, gardens and even forests are spaces of pacified chaos, where everything dangerous is etched, domesticated or banished away. Whole generations of people grow up in the “gardens of paradise” of civilization, taking the safety and benevolence of their environment as a given.
So when such a person sees nature as it is — bloodthirsty, unforgiving and unjust — he instantly has an epiphany. The task of “surviving at any cost” becomes central. Only in the safe comfort of the “cave” can one ponder whether nature is mother or stepmother. An encounter with reality can occur at any moment, whether it is an abnormal snow storm in New York, a carelessness in the mountains or the forced landing of a tourist plane in the taiga.
However, the greatest revelation awaits someone who has been convinced of the good nature of all people, especially himself. There is a dark underbelly in every human being that neither he nor those around him are aware of. The encounter of careless naivete with this “beast” leads at best to PTSD. So what to do? Open your eyes wide and voluntarily take the feasible steps to discover the true nature of the world, people, and yourself.