An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of January 10, 2010
Issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort adjoining Chichén Itzá Ruin in
YUCATÁN, MÉXICO

NORTE NOSTALGIA

Each day this week on the Internet I've checked the US weather map and looked at temperatures around the country. One day I saw low 20s forecast for the high in Kentucky as it snowed in Natchez, southern Mississippi. I was so glad to be here.

It was much cooler than normal here, too. On Wednesday morning it was 50 degrees at dawn (10° C), which people here found painful. The same coldwave griping eastern North America extended across the Gulf of Mexico to here, arriving as a "norte" -- cold wind from the north -- causing me to exchange my shorts for trousers for only the second time since being here.

This week's dusty norte breezes caused dry-season- yellowing, fingernail-sized Piich-tree leaflets to snow onto the ground. The odor of dry leaves hung in the air and though a body might feel chilly even wearing a sweater, glaring sunlight stung naked skin with sharp intensity. All these sensations evoked in me a powerful nostalgia, for when I used to experience them in late fall up north they presaged comforting feelings to come: Resplendent autumnal colors, cozy times in snug places during the cold months, the looming holiday season. Also, somehow when I was younger my most desperate love affairs always came along in late fall, and I wrote the best poetry then, so the Norte evoked nostalgia for those times, too.

But, down here, though the next months will offer their own charms, there is nothing cozy or snug to look forward to, no radiant colors soon to brighten the forest, no upcoming holidays, and no loves or anticipated flights of poesy to come. All those nostalgia-evoking cues experienced this week simply were out of place and disorienting. During this week's walks I've thought a lot about this.

What happened is that on those crisp, sunny norte afternoons when dry wind swept dust and leaves around the old stone church's corner my brain's left hemisphere recorded the data and the right hemisphere dutifully generated stories corresponding to that particular assemblage of stimuli. You can see how such a reflexive mental procedure would be adaptive to a thinking organism. It's the same process that causes my stomach to cramp when I see mushrooms looking like the Chlorophyllum that poisoned me in Kentucky in 2006.

Some would say that by dissecting and explaining my feelings like this I'm abandoning part of my humanity, wringing the poetry and romance from my life.

Maybe there's something to that. During most of my life I've aborted such thoughts as soon as they arose for that exact reason. However, the Sixth Miracle of Nature enables us to think and behave in ways our genetic programming does not dictate. It seems that Nature beckons us forward into such thoughts, even if it means our abandoning part of our humanity. Maybe there's something grand beyond "being human" as we think of it.

But, why even bother considering such thoughts? It is because our genes and their dictates do not offer solutions for saving Life on Earth. Yet, mysteriously and beautifully, at this very moment in humanity's long evolution, we are granted the Sixth Miracle of Nature, which enables us to think and behave in ways not dictated by our genes. Exactly when we need help, the Sixth Miracle grants us the gift of being able to contain our population growth, to restrain our greed, to tame our aggressions, to escape the bondage of our superstitions and half-baked creeds, and to neutralize our vulnerability to the herd instinct.

The gift consists of using our minds, even if it means losing some of our humanity.

Or, maybe a better way of saying that is that the solution consists of redefining -- of enlarging -- what it means to be human. Facebook Icon.