Absent some almost inconceivable catastrophe, humanity has made its choice: We’re going to live in cities. The advantages of living close together in large groups appears to outweigh the benefits of country life. In most, if not all, of the developed world more people now live in cities than in rural areas. We’ve been headed this direction since the invention of the plow. Dividing and specializing our labor is how we’ve adapted and made it this far.
And, let’s face it: Living in a house or an apartment is a lot more comfortable than living in a cave.
As we’ve moved to cities, we’ve romanticized the country life we left behind. The more wilderness we’ve lost, the more we’ve come to miss it.
The reason for this is not hard to spot. The bargain we’ve made for all the advantages of city life brought stressors. Noise, light pollution, air pollution, urban sprawl; all cut us off from nature. But the benefits of communal life are undeniable. In the words of the Constitution of the United States, we band together to provide for domestic tranquility, common defense, the general welfare, justice, and the blessings of liberty. To pay for all that; the highways, the police, the military, health care, education, and all the rest, we invented taxes.
Here in the United States of North America many of us are at sea in an ocean of paperwork as we prepare our tax returns due this week. This too, no matter how much we hate it, is an evolutionary adaptation. We don’t like it, but we endure it because the benefits outweigh the losses.
And one of the losses is the less stressful, less work-filled existence of earlier, simpler times. It’s why we take vacations. It’s why more of us now watch birds than shoot them.
So, take a short break. Get outside and find a tree. No matter how crowded your city, you will likely discover a bird in it. Probably it’s a House Sparrow. No matter; a House Sparrow is as beautiful in its perfection as a Trogan is in his. This time of the year, that bird is likely to be singing. Take a few precious moments to watch, to listen, to breathe.
That is an evolutionary adaption too. You will hear those older, wilder rhythms and be refreshed.
UPDATE: Natalie Angier of the New York Times wrote about taxes two days after this post. Not only has every human society we know of taxed its members in return for admission to the group; many animal species do also, including at least two bird species.
The photograph of the Elegant Trogan was made by Dominic Sherony and came via Wikipedia.