Young children playing in Brooklyn, New York’s Prospect Park recently forgot all previous preoccupations when they spotted an enormous killer wasp dragging a cicada. The sudden appearance of two carapaced monsters almost as big as their own small hands, the drama of death and helplessness, and the apparent willingness of these insects to display their wild selves so openly enthralled the children—and their parents.
That kind of nature is what’s missing from Sierra Club and other scenic calendars. Those glossy, full-color spreads present us with lakes so pure and crystalline they mirror the surrounding mountains all the way up to the peaks. They give us cute baby owls in their nests and a male lion in full-roar ferocity. There are never any people in these vistas. And there’s no sign of the kind of nature that we really need to be attuned to in these days of climate change and countless local environmental disasters: nature at risk.
It’s time for nature calendars to feature a killer wasp hunkering down with its cicada kill. We need picturesque shots of gulls greedily swarming an urban landfill, or a herd of cows grazing in a pasture dominated by gas fracking structures, or a tangle of trees uprooted by yet another violent hurricane.
A lot of these photos would be sad. Some would be ugly. Some would be weirdly lovely. But they would be nature as we either know it now or had better get to know it, since this is the nature we’re living with and that the Earth is increasingly bearing. If we only think of “nature” as that which is far away, pristine, and untouched by humans, we will ignore the nature that is in our midst—and that might be even more fascinating than what the calendars offer us.