What to Say about Nature’s ‘‘Speech’’
Yrjö Haila and Chuck Dyke
A NEWBORN BABY CANNOT SPEAK.
Yet the communication between baby
and mother, conspicuously between human babies and mothers, is
extensive and remarkably precise. If a worried young mother listens to
her body’s own response to the baby’s sounds, smells, and touches, she
is almost sure to do things right. Here it would be fairly clear what we
meant if we said that nature speaks in the relationship between mother
and child. For example, we could also say that nature speaks to the
mother in the baby’s cry, and to the baby through its mother’s breast. It
takes a whole lot to desensitize a mother to the truth of her relationship
to her baby.
Human communicative interactions with nature more broadly con-
sidered are also nurturing and, as we will come to see ever more clearly,
mutually nurturing. But in the multiplicity of this communication, the
warm, soft univocity of the breast is bedeviled by daunting complexity.
In general, the mutual sensitivities are imperfect, ambivalent, and often
dangerous. In fact, a look at human history shows us how easy it is to
become desensitized to the communicative interactions between our-
selves and the world around us—to the plight of endangered species,
for example. Ironically, desensitization can occur in the very attempt to
understand nature better. It looks as if certain sorts of cognitive access
to nature alienate us from nature in other ways, with no guarantee
whatsoever that we have achieved the most important access. Perhaps
humans are often listening to the wrong things—especially from the
point of view of mutual nurturing.
We have taken nature’s speech as a guiding metaphor for the inves-
tigations collected in this volume. Nature’s speech is an ancient poetic
metaphor, but, as a tradition directly relevant to the human environ-
mental predicament, goes back to Romanticism. That tradition viewed