Not in my nature

The other day I ran into a colleague, and while we were doing our post-summer-chitchat-thing, she told me she had spent the better part of her summer volunteering as a wilderness ranger in the Sierra National Forest, an experience that involved hiking and working in some of the most remote and picturesque parts of California:


But while she was telling me about how beautiful and peaceful and relaxing it all was, and I was nodding along, saying things like, “that sounds aMAZing,” here’s what I realized: I am such a phony. Because I was really thinking: Wow, that sounds sort of horrible.

OK, I won’t deny it: I hate nature.

All right, wait, you got me. Maybe I don’t completely hate it. I’m not a Republican, I recycle, I want there to be a rainforest, and I think koala bears and penguins are, like, totally cute. However, the truth is, I’ve always thought nature was pretty damned overrated.

As with every negative attitude I have, I suppose I could blame this one on my childhood as well. When I was still in elementary school and my dad was shacked up with his second wife, we used to go on these “camping” trips. But camping with my dad consisted of piling in our white Dodge van with the stepfamily—including big Edna, little Edna, and Jimmy—and then driving eight or ten hours to a KOA campground, setting up camp (i.e., doing a bunch of chores), sleeping in a crowded and stuffy tent, waking up at sunrise, breaking down camp (more chores!), and driving all day to the next site. And, unfortunately, there’s no shortage of KOAs in this country:

koa map

These trips were mostly unpleasant and taxing, but they were also just kind of dull. In fact, the only time I remember something exciting happening was when Big Edna got pissed at my dad, hopped out of the van, and said she wanted a divorce and would find her own way back to Seattle (we were in Montana or something). Secretly, I was thinking: Hey, shouldn’t you take your two kids with you? I was also thinking, Heck yeah—a divorce! It’s about time… But they didn’t get a divorce (not just then, anyway), since my dad managed to coax her back into the van so we could resume our tour of America’s great dirt parking lots.

Every once in awhile, we did happen upon someplace that was more traditionally and even spectacularly “natural.” For instance, somehow, in between KOA camping, we ended up at Yellowstone Park as well as the Grand Tetons. Still, these brief stops also involved unloading the van and schlepping water and pitching tents and cleaning dishes and, on top of that, driving endlessly just to get there. In short, I learned very early on that nature isn’t just slightly boring and somewhat inconvenient—it also involved too much manual labor.

But there are other reasons why I have this aversion. I’ve always been drawn to Modernism, so I have an anti-Romantic streak that makes me skeptical of our rich history of shameless nature propagandists: Thoreau, Emerson, Wordsworth—all those dirty hippies. Thoreau went into the woods because he “wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life,” but here are the facts of my life: I like running water and a roof over my head and gummi bears, none of which you can find in the wild.

But mostly I am just irritated by the assumption that nature is somehow innately pure or benevolent or good. Art critic Dave Hickey remarked that when dirty hippies respond to nature (actually, he refers to them as “people,” but we all know what he really means), they’re really reacting to “nature’s ability to mimic the sincerity of a painting.” He explains how, when friends and family would come to visit him at his home in Las Vegas, he’d take them to a spot where they could see a spectacular view of the city at sunset. Inevitably, his guests would either respond to the beauty of the neon lights or to the sunset itself. The distinction between these preferences, he argues, is just a matter of one’s taste in “duplicity.” We either prefer the “honest fakery” of The Strip or the “fake honesty” of the sunset. In other words, the sunset is not inherently sincere or authentic. It just fools us into thinking it is. We impose our own values, our own desperate need for authenticity, on nature—it is untainted and pure and good because that’s what we’d like to believe. We’re conditioned to think that we can escape the toxicity of modern life if we fill our bodies with “all natural” and “organic” foods, that we can escape the nastiness of culture if we just drive 10 hours to a KOA campground (or the Sierra National Forest or wherever). We believe in the replenishing goodness of all-mighty Nature.

And maybe it does replenish us.

But, to me, rather than being a result of something inherent in trees and mountains and rivers, our worship of nature seems almost entirely a reaction against culture. This sense of reverence, this nouveau pantheism, would not exist were we not so irritated by, well—by ourselves—by all the crap that we do and make (including making more people) and with which we clutter up the planet. When I finally admitted to my nature-loving-wilderness-adventurer colleague how I felt, she admitted that her love of nature stemmed from her need to get to a place that wasn’t somehow catering to her needs and desires. Look around, she said: everything is geared toward our satisfaction. Our convenience and our entertainment and our narcissism—everything points to us.

True, true, true—all of it. For those reasons, I love the city. Because it loves me back. (Sort of.) And because I’m a narcissist. And because, for my money, it’s all about the beauty of the grid: the freeways and intersections, stoplights and billboards, strip malls and skyscrapers.

Plus, it just seems so much more intelligently designed than nature:


Don’t you think?

56 responses to “Not in my nature”

  1. Scott Godfrey says:

    This was the first time I’ve actually laughed out loud at a Whatsit post. Of course my laughter was like: “Jeremy, you boob…ha ha ha.” No. Actually, it was like: “gosh darn you Jeremy Zitter, you’re sort of right…Drat!”

    I remember having a conversation about this very subject outside a movie theater, must’ve been three years ago. I was all: “Because the Christian creation myth demands that Man go forth and tame the earth…bla, bla, bla…(minute hand moves around the face of a clock)…So you see Jeremy, I’m obviously right.” You were like, “nature just sucks.”

    Okay, it was a stalemate then, but you’ve clearly won this time. Thanks for making defeat so pleasurable. Consider me dark sided.

  2. Lisa Parrish says:

    What I know about Jeremy so far, learned entirely from GW posts:

    1. Hates amusement park rides
    2. Hates nature
    3. Loves watching DVDs of TV shows in endless succession
    4. Never deletes any numbers on his cell phone
    5. Is a really good, entertaining writer

    Has anyone actually SEEN this person called Jeremy? Am I wrong to picture a mad, pale genius who never leaves his house? I’ve heard he’s handsome – true? A check of his GW bio reveals only that “Jeremy is awesome?” Am I wrong to suspect that “awesome” is the code name of some super-advanced software that generates these wonderful posts?

    Thank goodness we’re having the 1st annual GW convention at new year’s. I can’t wait to meet all you fabulous, mysterious west coasters face to face.

  3. Dave says:

    Farrell claims to have met Jeremy, and G-Lock claims to have slept with him, right?

  4. Porkpie Jones says:

    He likes Gummy anythings.

  5. Lisa Tremain says:

    Here’s to ham sandwiches!! Which is what I told Jeremy (yes, in person) when I tried and failed to do a Mastercleanse ( He was perfectly tickled.

    Also, on one of my first outings with Jeremy a few years back, I thought I would impress him when I told the story of taking 50 inner-city ninth graders to Yosemite for a week. He responded: “I hate nature.” So much for that, but he is handsome.

    By the way, you can buy his love with candy. He likes those marshmallowy things called “Peeps” too.

  6. Matt C says:

    Jeremy rules! I used to have a couple of hippie/pagan/gay roomies–both raised in the suburbs–who went on and on about getting back to nature and in touch with the land while nuking quesadillas and watching reruns of “Saved by the Bell.”

    Having grown up on a farm in Southern Idaho, my only response was: “You know the best part of living in the country?? No one can hear you scream.”

    Amen, Brother Z, amen.

  7. Tim Wager says:

    So, Jeremy, while I was narrating our honeymoon to you, you were thinking, “How awful!” It’s okay, really, I understand. Thankfully I was never subjected to KOA campgrounds as a child, so I can approach the “great out of doors” with a less-freighted attitude.

    That “Nature” is not, well, “natural” is pretty clear. I mean, you’ve got to work really hard to keep it looking like itself, just like Scarlett Johansson. One of the best riffs on this is the fake SNL ad for “JJ Casuals,” a line of shoes that look like bare feet. Andy Samberg plays hokey frat-boy surfer-singer Jack Johnson, who loves to go barefoot wherever he goes. For restaurants and airplanes, though, he needs something to make it look like he’s barefootin’, to he’s designed these shoes. It’s a hysterical bit and also points to the fact that nudity is just as constructed as anything you’ll find on the runway at Fashion Week.

    I can attest to having met Jeremy. Whether or not I know him is debatable, what with the revelations herein.

    Also, TGW convention? Where? When? And will Farrell let it happen? Because then everybody will know everybody else and he won’t be the hub around which the whole wheel turns.

  8. nikki. says:

    i have the perfect camping site for you. . .

  9. Lisa Parrish says:

    For Tim: Check out comment #47 here.
    For Jeremy: Peeps art. Fully edible in case of catastrophe.

  10. Becky says:

    Thanks, Jeremy, for articulating my opinion much better than I did. And that pic of all the KOA campsites killed me. Now, about you hating nature. How can I argue with that? You hate it. What to do? But then. . . I offered you a reason for loving nature (“nature” it does sound silly), but maybe I have no good intellectual reason for wanting to be out there. Do I have to? E.O. Wilson says that we (“we” meaning normal people) are biologically hardwired to respond positively to nature. We unconsciously react to the the stream, the waterfall, the forest grove, because of their necessity for survivial. And maybe we pile on all kinds of meaning on top of that. But isn’t that what we do for EVERYTHING? Project our fears and desires on the objects of our affection, or hatred?
    And I think there’s a way to protect, respect, love (whatever) nature without imbuing it with all those flaky, dumbass characteristics.

    Well, Jeremy, glad to have partly elicited your funny response. If you’re ever short on ideas, hit me up. I have an endless supply of half-ass theories about the world that are just ripe for shredding.

  11. Ruben Mancillas says:

    My favorite part of this is Jeremy owning up to/Tim calling him on his complete lack of interest in/attention to a friend’s story. Does this mean you really don’t enjoy talking for hours about fantasy basketball either. Shudder…

    This post, and some recent parent inspired viewing of the animated film Brother Bear, got me thinking about Herzog’s voiceover in Grizzly Man: And what haunts me, is that in all the faces of the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as the secret world of bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food.

    So which is worse, Jeremy, real nature (KOA) or fake nature (Splash Mountain)?

    Let me end with a healty dose of truly deserved self praise for not (yet) taking the bait that would be discussing Mr. Zitter’s existence, looks, etc.

  12. (not) Jeremy Zitter says:

    You’re just jellous, Ruben. He’s HOT, FUNNY, SMART, and has great taste in THINGS.

  13. Lisa Tremain says:

    I like that spelling: jellous; it’s candy-like.

  14. Jeremy Zitter says:

    First of all: Aw shucks, guys…

    Scotty: The last time I laughed out loud at a GW post was when I read your fake-poem post, and I said the exact same thing to myself, “Jeremy, you boob… ha ha ha,” because I fell for it, too.

    Lisa P: Double shucks… one correction, though: I’m not really all that pale.

    LT: Congrats! Congrats! Congrats! And I think I remember also saying that it was “aMAZing” that you took all those kids out into Nature. (And, yes, I love marshmallow peeps: tell everyone.)

    Matt Coats: Like marshmallow peeps, I also love Matt Coats. Where’ve you been?

    Tim: Hey, seriously, you had me during your entire narration of your honeymoon, up until the part where your “plush” cabin had one lightbulb which was attached to, like, a AA battery. JJ casuals: that’s awesome.

    Nikki: That would be the perfect camping site, if only they would lose all those trees blocking that beautiful Eames house.

    Becky: Yes, we do project our fears and desires on just about everything, though I don’t think we’re very conscious of the fact that we do it to Nature constantly… thanks for offering up your experience, by the way…

  15. Stephanie Wells says:

    What I love most about this post is how it owns up to not liking what we’re “supposed” to like, which is a post that’s been percolatin’ for some time in my head now (with regards to music and literature, but this applies). Jeremy admits that for him, the woods aren’t as enticing as the city, and turns the whole nature/culture debate on its ear (and with its attendant gender roles of nature as feminine and culture as masculine, does that make a different, sexist statement? hmm . . . ). But I read your post and realize that although, like most people, I assume I love nature, when I really think about it, with the exception of the ocean, I don’t, all that much. At least, not compared to a good gritty cityscape. I’d rather camp in Grand Central Station than a KOA campground any day.

  16. Lane says:


    I kind of like camping, sort of, but not really enough to ever really do it.

    Nature is dull isn’t it. That really hits on the reason why I only sort of like camping. It can be fun getting there and setting up the camp but then what . . . trees? wind? Who cares?

  17. bryan says:

    I disagree with everyone who is dissing nature, camping, and even KOA. I loved KOA as a kid: swimming pool! So much better than riding in the car, although riding in the car I got to listen to my headphones and work on my novel …

    I have been itching to go camping. And itching to write about going camping. So fuck all y’all.

  18. bryan says:

    So what the hell is up with those red and blue dots on the KOA map? Are they democrat and republican?

  19. Stephanie Wells says:

    What, you think any of those redneck-ass campgrounds are democrat?

  20. bryan says:

    i’ve seen weirder things in my camping days.

  21. bryan says:

    boy, 20 comments just isn’t as impressive as it used to be, is it?

  22. Stephanie Wells says:

    No, thanks to comments like #21 . . .

  23. farrell says:

    hey jeremy,

    at first read i started to catch a whiff of that old lemonheads song that we used to love–you know, ‘i lied about being the outdoor type.’ “i can’t go away with you for a rock climbing weekend, what if something’s on tv then it’s never shown again. I’ve never owned a sleeping bag, let alone a mountain bike, i lied about being the outdoor type.” But that song doesn’t begin to explore the territory you covered. you took this subject to a place so much more sublime and funny and personal and intelligent than evan dando could ever hope. i really enjoyed enjoyed this. i wish evan would read it.

  24. miss b haves says:

    to lisa’s list about jeremy:

    #6 And he likes a good lap dance.

  25. farrell says:

    #7. He’s gay.

  26. farrell says:

    And now you’ve tied your old record. let’s double this.

  27. Lisa Parrish says:

    But who’s counting?

    Oh, right — Farrell the All Time Comment Record Holder, that’s who.

  28. Evan Dandon't says:

    Your post rocks!

  29. Lisa Tremain says:

    #8. He’s a really sore loser at charades.

  30. G-Lock says:

    As a born-and-raised New Yorker, full-blown homo, and honorary Jew, I abhor nature unless it is enclosed by giant buildings. People who avidly camp freak me out.

  31. nate says:

    i smoked a joint at bryce canyon. it was pretty fucking cool.

  32. Rachel says:

    The wilderness would be better if it had hot showers and hotel beds every few miles.

  33. PB says:

    I like the second to last line best of all . . .

  34. nikki. says:

    #9. He likes to collect tan pants but he almost never wears them.

  35. Scott Godfrey says:

    #10, he’s a 10.

  36. nikki. says:

    #11, scott’s gay.

  37. bryan says:

    22: what the hell were you singling me out for? look at the level this baby’s risen to since then …

  38. Jeremy Zitter says:

    OK, as much as I love all this commentary about me and my post, maybe we can move past this whole number-of-comments issue, not to mention the number-of-Jeremy’s-quirks issue. (Apparently, my students sometimes see these comments, and it’s a bit creepy not being in control of what personal information is made available to them: e.g., my collection of tan pants which, for the record, I usually wear to school…).

  39. Jeremy's Friend Forever says:

    #112. He secretly loves comments that are written about him. Don’t stop!!

  40. Bertha Vanation says:

    Ah, the beauty of pseudonyms… I highly recommend them.

  41. Farrell Fawcett says:

    i second that.

  42. Farrell Fawcett says:

    wait, that was me, trixie saying that. darnit.

  43. Farrell Fawcett says:

    hey! it even says welcome back trixie in the comment area. i give up.

  44. bryan says:

    it’s because your computer is logged into wordpress for farrell to post last night. to make sure you don’t post under someone else’s name (even if it says welcome back trixie) just make sure you’re logged out or log in under your own acct. it happens to many of us — you’re not alone.

    having said that, i kind of like the gender bending thing you’re doing. knowing farrell’s a lady is kind of sexy.

  45. Lisa Parrish says:

    Everybody is welcoming you back, Trixie. Even the blog software. xo

  46. […] Camping with the NESC was only partly, if ever, about nature. Sure, Berkshires and beaches provided gorgeous settings for our holiday weekends. We found the vistas we were supposed to find, took our requisite number of photos. Hell, I even forced people to listen to Melville’s semi-satirical rhapsodies to the “most excellent purple majesty,” Mount Greylock. […]

  47. whodunnitmannnn says:

    is he really gay? hm…

  48. bryan says:

    i don’t know. if he is, maybe it helps explain why california seems to have fallen into the ocean today (given the number of comments, and considering scott’s last comment sounded like he was drowning). maybe god punished the wrong greatwhatsit coast by mistake.

  49. Timeless says:

    So, Jeremy, never thought your name would ring up so astoundingly, and never would have imagined you were the type to have an appreciation of the City life… Place where I had flourished for 7 years of my adult life.

  50. Gary Hoffman says:

    Jeremy I enjoyed your piece and I can’t remember if I ever told you about Jose Knighton’s essay “Eco-Porm and the Manipulation of Desire” written for Wild Earth. He goes after the glam of nature photo-ops that attempt “to seduce by presenting an image divorced from its actual physical context.” In agreement I deny the photo and I love being in the actual “whole context,” lost in the giant shapes and unexpected colors and lights of natural settings; sometimes they are dramatic like Zion and sometimes subtle like Bolsa Chica. I feel both humbled by the earth, excited by it, and egotistically a part of its 3-D psychic swamping of me, bouncing back and forth in those opposite states of mind. Now camping, that’s a different matter. Loved it as a kid because my dad was great company (unlike your extended family) and he taught my bro and I to fish or not eat. But it is dirty work and as an adult I just want to wander out of a cabin. But I like the city too, and am glad that I don’t have to survive nature’s brutality. Gary

  51. Anonymous says:

    nyc department of building…

  52. […] I’m certainly no nature lover, but lately I can’t help but fret and wonder — where have all the bees […]

  53. Stephanie Wells says:

    Rereading this post today reminded me of one my fave comments ever, #44: “knowing farrell’s a lady is kind of sexy.”

  54. Trixie Honeycups says:

    you think that’s hot because you are really a gay man.

  55. Stephanie Wells says:

    Outed . . .

  56. Jeremy Zitter says:

    54: she wishes.