Nature’s Medicine

This newsletter emerges from Iceland, a mysterious and primal land about which I have heard much over many years and which I have just now visited for the first time. Iceland is currently experiencing a surge of Game of Thrones tourism, many scenes in that most popular of TV series having been shot here, scenes that contributed as backdrop to the various confrontations that culminated in a final score of Stark Family 4, Rest of Westeros ½ (that fraction reflecting the rehiring of Last-Surviving Lanister Tyrion as Hand-y Man to King Bran the Broken after losing his previous employment under Queen Danaerys the Defunct).

How appropriate that two of those Starks became monarchs and two went off into the wilds of ice and ocean, a symmetry of civilization and wildness that is all too often ignored, both today and in the past, in fact and in fiction. And how ironic that GoT’s Children of the Forest, in trying to protect the world of Nature from the world of Men, neglected to trust Nature to do the job and dared instead to create a Doomsday weapon (the Night King) via whom they ended up hoisting with their own petard. Wherever your attention goes, there proceeds your prana, and a major moral to that story is in my opinion the importance of focusing on what you want to preserve, protect and defend rather than dwelling on your enemies. Today our most implacable enemy is not as some would have it civilization itself but rather our relentless insistence on ignoring the environment from which that civilization sprang and within which it continues to exist. Today’s decisive task is therefore to reawaken within our collective human awareness a healthy relationship with the natural world.

Iceland is a Song of Fire and Ice that sits atop the junction of the North American and Eurasian Tectonic Plates, one of only two locations in the world (the other being East Africa) where a plate boundary occurs on land. It likewise represents a boundary between the thin veneer of life that, like the lupins that envelop the hills in summer, sheathes the primordial geology that is never far from the surface. When visiting the South Coast, we stayed by chance in a small house very near the base of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, whose 2010 eruption so drastically disrupted air travel in Europe. (We had a great stay there; when your travel plans take you to Iceland go to and search “Nupakot”, you find also a lovely walk along small waterfalls to enjoy and short horses to feed.) Our host, whose English is excellent, detailed for us his experience of the eruption, which blanketed his farm with 15 cm of ash and for 36 hours created a blackness so deep that he could literally not see his outstretched hand in front of his face.

He concluded by observing, “This is an extreme country,” which clearly it is, though extreme in a primally natural way, dangerous and very much alive, just like the Big Island of Hawaii and its own volcano, Kilaueau, which I dearly love and whose scars I bear on my arm as a reminder of her essential impersonality. Nature loves all her creations equally, and we humans who love those creations need always to recall that many of those creations are quite unable to appreciate human limitations. The chief characteristic of the Anthropocene, the age we live in, is that humans commonly view everything from an anthropocentric perspective, a point of view that not only can doom us individually (as it did my dear young friend Peter, who drowned in a River Ganga to which he was so devoted that he wrongly thought she would never harm him) but also as a species. Appropriate alignment with nature is vital not merely for survival but for “thrival”, and in this world of unremitting unrbanization regular periods of communing with the great outdoors is critical for the welfare of our personal and collective “indoors”. My stay in Iceland was a wonderful reminder of just how majestic and perilous Nature can be, and how indispensable meaningful time in nature is for health. Now is the time to go out of your door and get out and look all around, your well-being and that of our planet demands it!