-3°C (26.6°F) A cloudy, snow-scented day. Just below freezing, the snow sublimates into pools of vapor just above the ground. Jenny and I swirled through it on a long walk through a frozen marsh and felt cleansed.

This marshy area is, like so many other places, nothing special. It is a remnant, not good enough for building houses or anything else people could think of for the last 150 years. It’s crossed by a little-used railroad track, and a couple of overgrown earthen dams, probably built to help stabilize the rails. But it is just that lack of use that makes it appealing.

That lack of use also brought it a lot of attention from developers and preservationists. Last year, after a hard-fought battle, it was saved as a park. Now, though, the city has begun debating what to “do” with it. It worries me. We seem incapable of leaving things alone, of letting them be. We want to shape them into our ideas of what they should
be, instead of learning to appreciate them for what they are

That, too, is a remnant – a remnant of an old cultural prejudice against nature. Nature was something hostile, something to be fought, tamed, controlled – civilized. It started as some sort of survival instinct (though we have taken it to pathological extremes – see “On a Monument to the Pigeon” in Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac
), but in the last 50 years, that instinct has evolved. As nature became less and less of a daily threat, our survival instinct turned into more of an assertion of our identity – a claim for attention.

For a little patch of ground like the frozen marsh, the effect is to punish it for its gentle indifference. I’m sorry.