These days, a book with a title like The Fate of Nature is something you’d expect to present a doomsday scenario. Indeed, this book examines the “magnificent vastness threatened by the petty and mundane,” but it is by no means a pessimistic view. Rather, author Charles Wohlforth draws our attention to the multitude of miracles in nature and invites us to view them with awe and appreciation, as he does.
A lifelong resident of Alaska with no political or commercial agenda (at least, none that surfaces here), Wohlforth has written five other books about Alaska and nature, worked as a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News and was a lead reporter covering the Exxon Valdez oil spill. In The Fate of Nature, he draws on all his experience and research to examine the nature of humans, and “seeks to unmask false assumptions.” Humans can work collaboratively, he insists, when the culture supports or requires teamwork. The cynical view of our species may be accepted by many, but Wohlforth is determined to change both the view and any reality it may rest upon. This book, with its panoramic descriptions of the wild, is a poetic and philosophical approach to changing the way we see the natural world and connect with it. “Connections to wild nature are essential to the human animal,” writes Wohlforth. When we recognize the connection, we are certainly more inclined to protect and preserve that world upon which we depend. Seeing, truly seeing what is around us and its importance to our own lives will compel us to better care for nature.
The Fate of Nature is a step toward changing the mindset of society. We are out-of-control consumers, riding on the fiction that there is an abundance of oil, clean water, pristine earth. With only a little attention to what is going on around us, we can see that this is a false belief, a deadly belief. In this book, Wohlforth attempts to turn us around and help us latch onto a new and more realistic idea. “Ideas, led by a vanguard, spread invisibly, until one day society is simply different,” he says. Each reader of The Fate of Nature may become part of that vanguard, building in numbers until we reach the 100th monkey and the whole world recognizes that there is a better way to live.
Imagine sitting by a roaring fire, relaxed at the end of the day, and let Charles Wohlforth tell you stories of Captain James Cook’s encounter with the Chugach village where peace was in the best interest of the community and therefore more important than punishment, ownership or petty disputes. Follow along as Wohlforth’s poetic narrative twists through the cultural changes brought about by interaction with European explorers, capitalistic philosophy, and the eventual infringement upon peaceful tribes and lands by powerful and grasping nations.
Though not a stated component of The Fate of Nature, there are spiritual truths revealed here. Even as readers are mesmerized by the words and the worlds depicted, we can’t miss seeing ourselves in the actions of the plunderers. Uncomfortable as that may be, it is the critical first step toward reversing course and returning to a harmonious relationship with nature that benefits us even more than it benefits the wild things.
With optimism, Wohlforth writes that “We can call this the end of a long, sad story – we’re not obliged to continue the mistakes that were handed down to us.” In other words, whether or not The Fate of Nature is a tale with a happy ending is up to each of us. The author and Earth have given us the choice.