Recently, on a lovely sunny day, I found myself in seventh heaven, walking across a stamp-size and fenced-off plot of grass. After a while though, I started doubting my sanity.
The carefully-tended field on my left had transformed into a patchwork of barbecuing families and scampering urban bunnies. Turning right, I looked out over the port, where cranes and masts seemed to rake the air for passing gulls. What was going on here?
Fortunately, on my way back I came across a flowering tree. At which point I knew I was in nature.
Journey of self-discovery
We city-dwellers are a strange lot. As soon as the days start to grow longer, and the sun starts peeking out, we get this urge to go outdoors. And what do we find there? A park, a café terrace, a quay along the Maas. Forget about woods, wilderness, wild animals. The park in my neighbourhood is surrounded by a fence, which is locked at sundown. One evening, I was even told to clear off by a security guard. They had to close the fence, which meant I had to go outside. I hadn’t realised before that apparently, I wasn’t outside already.
Why do we want to go outside? I think it’s because we want to escape from our current circumstances. After all, when it’s raining outside, we want to go indoors. People are wired to move to the most favourable location available. And maybe the city isn’t as favourable as we assume. The fact that vast numbers of young people travel around the world and call it ‘a journey of self-discovery’ also suggests a definite need for contact with ‘the great outdoors’.
Maybe we have lost ourselves because we have become so successful in reining in nature. We are constantly moving within a structure that has been set up by other people. In which you don’t so much move freely, as cooperate. In a situation like this, it doesn’t seem reasonable to expect that we have any idea of our natural, original self.
Does this mean we all have to go sit on a mountaintop somewhere? I don’t think so: city life also offers loads of advantages. On top of which you can get used to it. And when escape becomes the norm, you’ll probably want to go back eventually. Now we can choose: during the summer holidays, you can keep it simple and stay at a camping on the Côte d’Azur, or go to an all-in resort in Thailand. By choosing the latter, are you actually doing exactly what is expected of you? Maybe you are. Maybe that’s our nature.