Last Monday’s snowstorm caused people in the Twin Cities to stand on streets with shovels waiting to help the next person whose car would get stuck in a snowbank. Strangers, waiting for buses that never came, kept each other company on cold walks home. People came together because of the weather. This speaks to a dormant desire within people to have meaningful interactions with their physical environment, a need that must be nourished more than it currently is.
The nature of humans is to look at their environments and to meddle with them. People meld their senses with their intuition to make hunting spears of sticks and stones, to harness fire and to create the wheel. A need to interact with the world is an inherent condition which was tapped by the snowstorm. The challenge of the snow triggered a communal survival instinct, driving people to the streets with shovels and to travel with strangers.
This essential function is numbed in most people. Twin Cities residents are guided through their world by crosswalk buttons that shout “wait,” by labeled street signs and by the hallways of their offices and schools. The modern person is so removed from any challenges in their environments that people often stare at flashing television and phone screens to be engaged by the difficult situations of a plot or a fictional world. Media is a forced substitute for a connection to the earth.
This understimulated desire feeds into the popularity and experience of sports. Sporting events combine human innovation, bodily interactions and the physical environment. The urban experience is enacted through a baseball game. Rules are laws. Foul lines and base paths conjure the rigidity of crosswalks and highway paint. Bats, balls and gloves are tools, just like spears, which heighten the environment. The players movements mimic the physical struggle of co-predatory animals or competing animals to attain a victory. The ballpark, inherent in its name, replicates the interacting built and non-built features akin to the park aesthetic of urban environments. Vine-filled brick outfield walls, such as those at Wrigley Field, model the nature of the urban environment in which grass squeezes between sidewalk panels. The grass and dirt are as simple as most lawns are. However, this ritualization of the natural world is not confined to baseball. Hockey, a sport popular in cold areas, is played on ice rinks whose features are not far removed from the slippery road ways of Monday’s snowstorm.
People are attracted to Independence Day celebrations because they can watch the exploding sky they often pass without noticing. The Winter Carnival celebrates the frigid weather which many complain about. The State Fair displays pigs next to Pronto Puff stands and cows next to hamburger carts in a gathering that embraces the sprawling agricultural system by bundling rural farm animals and the congestion of urban and suburban food shops. If people were consistently engaged with the happenings of their environments, these events would not be so gravitational.
The philanthropy of people on Monday’s snowstorm, the choice of screen time and the popularity of sports and festivals show that people need to have substantial interactions with their environments. Embrace these events for what they aim to achieve but nurture the need to engage with nature on a regular basis. Exploring a new path makes a game, a festival and a plot out of the time and space.
This article first appeared in the Friday, February 2, 2018, Edition of The Echo.