More than once during the past 11 years, my Darling Wife and I have looked at our Precious Daughter and said, "She's just so wonderful at this moment. I wish she would stop growing and remain like this forever."
A fleeting, silly thought, but a very human one that I guess we all have at one time or another.
But it cannot be so.
Poets and philosophers have explained it over and over: Time marches on. The only constant is change. Nothing gold remains. The times--they are a-changin'.
The nature of nature is change. Things grow, they die and something new grows in its place. Mountains rise and fall. Even the continents are moving, and tides, once thought to be constant, rise and fall over long periods we humans can only barely grasp.
And yet we crave consistency. I've talked to dozens of nature lovers who want nothing more than to "save" the wetlands as they are right now. Or, they want to restore Louisiana's coastal wetlands to the way they were 30, 40, or 50 years ago.
Static, unchanging, frozen wetlands.
Just one problem: ain't gonna happen.
Because even nature itself--if for some reason we meddlesome humans completely abandoned the area--even nature would not build those wetlands and keep them safe in her loving bosom for any appreciable length of time.
We know that as often as every few hundred years, nature's way has been to build the Mississippi River delta up by sedimentation and repetitive flooding, only to abandon what had been created by letting the river jump to another location altogether. In the brief history of south Louisiana (brief on the geologic time scale), the Mississippi River has dallied from one route to the next: from the Maringouin Delta to the Teche Delta, then from the St. Bernard Delta to the LaFourche Delta, and on to the Plaquemines Delta until arriving in its current location adjacent to New Orleans.
Nature is never static.
So anybody who wants to preserve the "natural" environment in exactly its present state is probably being a little naive. Anybody who wants to rebuild the "natural" environment to recreate what it looked like in the past is probably being a little idealistic.
There's just no such thing in nature.
There are some who will tell you that natural forces should be unleashed to build and rebuild natural land formations. They'll chastise anyone who thinks we mere humans can control the environment and engineer it to our personal likings.
And then they'll show you an old map and tell you this is what it must look like. They'll talk about regulating flows and controlling salinity and nutrient loads. They'll show you where the islands will be and where the lakes and ponds belong, because, you know, that's what nature intended so that's what we must forcibly reconstruct.
If you meet someone like this, tell them to set their alarm clock to "Now" so they can wake up. What they are describing is not nature--it's engineering. (And it's human engineering at that!) What they want is to engineer the environment to mimic what nature has done in the past or what they think nature would do in the future.
What they want is static, unchanging, frozen wetlands.
There is no doubt that humans have an impact on the environment. Through invasive population patterns and the ruthless efficiency of our industrialization and consumerism, we have left a huge footprint on the planet.
And there is no doubt that we have the capability to change that. If we want to, we can curb or reproduction, we can decrease our consumption and we can pay attention to the planet that gave birth to us.
I remember there was a speaker at a conference here back in November of 2005--probably the first in the string of rebuilding seminars that followed Hurricane Katrina--had something significant to say about this even then. I remember he said that rebuilding New Orleans was not a struggle of man against nature, because man has his place in the natural order. Viewed correctly, he said it is the struggle of man to live within nature.
I think that's a more realistic view. We are not going to conquer or triumph over nature, but we are not going to surrender to the whims of nature, either. We must find a way to live within nature, to acknowledge what we can and can't do, to pick our battles with the elements wisely, to make informed choices and to remain vigilant of future threats.
We have to learn not to merely live alongside nature; we have to learn to live within nature. I know this is not as easy to do as it is to say. We still have so much to learn--I certainly know I have a lot to learn.
Back at home, I know that my Precious Daughter is growing up, and that the sweet girl she is will not last long. She will continue to change and mature into womanhood no matter how hard we wish she would stop growing. I know I must learn and adapt because as wonderful as the past has been, the future can be even better.