Published in  
December 4, 2015

What about the duckbill platypus?

If I could define ‘nature’, what would I say?

Would I look disdainfully away from my laptop screen and fix my gaze on the sonorous distance where elder mountains, capped in white and wisdom, sit in silence? Do I abandon these modern grey concrete slabs of brick and gloom – which is the city – for an edenic reserve, where flora is law and slowness the enforcement? Are gates more natural than walls? Is it more natural to drink from a waterfall than it is to drink from a plastic bottle labelled ‘spring water’? Am I more ‘natural’ when I refuse to eat meat or drink milk, when I tiptoe past lazy herbs, when my aching body exorcises a virus, when I refuse to sit for hours hunched over the spectacle of dancing pixels and Google, when I decide to ‘be in the moment’?

Am I denatured in some way by being a gestating citizen of a commercial empire? Is ‘nature’ some deeper stream I can arrive at, if only I persevered through these layers of artifice? Some final resting place of unflinching harmony? Twin tablets of stone from summits of fire?

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If your hesitant reply to all (or some) of these questions is a certain ‘yes’, then what of the duckbill platypus? If nature is a stable set of values, then why is crisis, trouble, paradox, strange dalliances, and queer associations so much a part of its mattering? Why this messy motley of digested viruses, infected organisms and biochemical truces? Why are my cells so hastily, resolutely, haunted by bacteria – which, by virtue of our most abiding democratic allowances for the ‘majority’, should lay claim to the landscape of my body…the ‘I’ that I insist is mine? Why this deranged adulteration and piles and piles of entangling mutations?

I suppose it is this: as soon as we fix ‘nature’ into a creed, she slips away – for nature is that which we desire but cannot own. Nature is its own deconstruction, never ‘born’, always ‘made’ – monstrously hospitable, experimenting with ‘this’ and ‘that’ and ‘other’, merging sickness and cure, generating silly forms and new worlds, tinkering with artifice by touching itself, eschewing essence and purity, violating its own constraints, purging the slumber of the ground. Therein lies ‘nature’s vitality – in her groundlessness, in her constant becoming. In surprising herself.