Stephanie Ross

Paradoxes and Puzzles: Appreciating Gardens and Urban Nature



2.      Two extreme answers to what is nature (that we should reject)

         a.      Nature = Pure wildness (what is totally uninfluenced by humans)

                   i.       “The place were we are is the place where nature is not” (Cronon)

                   ii.      Paradigm cases: Virgin forest, vast deserts, open sea

                   iii.     No nature left argument: Because everything has been affected by human culture, no part of earth has escaped our influence

                   iv.     Reply: But pouring a 6 oz can of tomato juice in the ocean does not make it unnatural (or not nature or not wild)

         b.      Nature = Everything

                   i.       Argument for: Since we’re natural then so too are our activities and their products

                   ii.      Rings false: New Orleans Superdome as natural a rain?

                   iii.     Mistaken entailments:

                            (1)    Since humans are hairy, their activities are hairy (hairy studying, hairy cake baking) and the resulting products are hairy ( hairy cakes)

                            (2)    That a cause has a certain property does not necessarily mean the effect has that property



4.      Why Elliot thinks restoration of nature impossible

         a.      Nature restoration like forged art

                   i.       Erase painting and then reproduce it on the canvas by an expert forgery

         b.      Restoring natural areas can’t bring back the value that was previously there

         c.      Natural areas have a causal continuity with the past which is breached by degradation and restoration

         d.      A strip mined mountain reformed by restoration is no longer nature as no longer tied to its past

                   i.       No longer tided to its past in the right way

5.      Elliott’s three cases

         a.      Experience machine of wild nature

         b.      Plastic simulated wilderness

         c.      Restored strip-mined mountain

         d.      First two are examples of Ross’ category of “virtual nature

                   i.       Experiences indistinguishable from being in actual nature, and contain no natural elements

         e.      Elliot thinks restored nature no less fake

         f.       Neither (1) being indiscernible from nature nor (2) having entirely natural contents suffices for being nature

                   i.       It sure seems like having natural contents would increase the naturalness!

         g.      What is needed for being nature is continuity of process

                   i.       Current contents result from uninterrupted processes of a certain sort

         h.      A restored mountain top is like env. artist Alan Sonfist’s “Time Landscape”

                   i.       A city block in downtown Manhattan planted to create precisely sort of forest would have greeted explorers in Colonial times

                   ii.      Is this restoration of nature or not?

         i.       Pinecone to the moon example

                   i.       Consider taking the pine cones from a “virgin” pine forest, shipping them to the moon and back again and then putting them back in the forest

                   ii.      Would the forest that grew from those pine cones not be natural or nature because the causal process had been interrupted by humans?



7.      Ross on relation nature/culture

         a.      Nature and culture are oppositional

         b.      Nature and culture interpenetrate

         c.      Unlikely to find pure examples of either

8.      Naturalness comes in degrees

         a.      Human walking across a pristine beach and leaving footprints is quite different from a developer constructing condos all along the same beach

         b.      Agreement in judging degrees of naturalness? (First less natural...)

                   i.       Oil spill vs can of tomato juice in ocean

                   ii.      Agriculture vs suburban lawns

                   iii.     Strip mining versus desert golf-course

9.      Restoration of naturalness possible

         a.      If natural comes in degrees

         b.      Should be possible to enhance as well as degrade naturalness of given site

10.    Ross’s definition of original nature (and subsequent pristine nature)

         a.      A time before humans came on planet, everything entirely natural

         b.      Nature-preserving processes are those studied by natural science (as opposed to social science)

                   i.       E.g., physics, astronomy, meteorology, geology, biology

         c.      Any state resulting from initial state (solely) by these processes is entirely natural

         d.      So nature-diminishing processes are those studied by the social sciences/humanities (economics, politics, religion, ethics, psychology, sociology)

11.    Don’t get degrees of naturalness characteristic of our world until we introduce an oppositional process to original nature

         a.      Humans were that force

         b.      Early humans left natural processes and their results pretty much unchanged

         c.      Later humans got ability to change naturalness of their environment

                   i.       Perhaps with agriculture

12.    Features that reduce naturalness

         a.      Caused/produced by us (humans)

         b.      Would not have happened but for us (counterfactual claim)

                   i.       Acres of maize planted in rows

                   ii.      North American landscape would not have been like it was in 1500 but for the killing off of the megafauna by Pleistocene peoples

         c.      Adding (or replacing with) non-natural ingredients (e.g., plastic)

         d.      Exotics example:

                   i.       Exotic species introduction is more natural than introduction of non-living artifacts, but still reduces overall naturalness because of the counterfactual criterion: they would not be there but for us

13.    Human activities can increase naturalness

         a.      By reintroducing natural contents

                   i.       A restored mountain after strip mining is more natural than a plastic mountain, because its contents are natural

         b.      By protecting? or re-instituting natural processes

                   i.       Restoration of predator/prey relations



15.    Urban nature is paradoxical

         a.      Seems like an oxymoron (contradictory conjunction of words)

         b.      Nature and things urban seem antithetical

         c.      Cities contains no large tracts of land resembling original nature

16.    Urban nature is present at the extremes

         a.      Vast nature, macroscopic appreciation: Panoramas, surrounding geological/geographic features, weather fronts, astronomical events/relations (moon)

                   i.       Founding features of cities, rivers, estuaries, mountains, plateaus, wetlands are not displaced by the city

         b.      Minute nature, microscopic, fine-focused appreciation: Tiny insect, single blossom, a drop of dew, plants sprouting up through sidewalks, trees still present, squirrels and pigeons thriving next to humans (even rats and cockroaches), rocks, pebbles, distinctive slope, plants in a pot, gardens



         a.      They go from more to less natural

18.    Interrupted nature

         a.      Causal chains severed and similar chains renewed

         b.      E.g., Charles River in Boston, polluted and now cleaned

                   i.       Naturalness of river interrupted, now resumed

                   ii.      What about fact it is (still) channeled?

         c.      Removing dams from rivers

         d.      Restoring a degraded wetland

         e.      Sonfists Time Landscape”

19.    Altered nature

         a.      Causal chains severed and some different processes/contents put in place

         b.      E.g., Forest park in St Louis, a stream that had been put underground was brought back above ground, wetlands and prairies put back and have been miniaturized and compressed (prairies and wetlands don’t naturally abut so intimately); gives the illusion of wildness but not deceptively so

20.    Constructed nature

         a.      Illusory experiences of nature constructed using natural materials

         b.      Serve human interests rather than ecosystem needs

         c.      Creations serve our aesthetic and recreational need by building new chunk of nature

         d.      E.g., Byxhee Park, in California, a reclaimed landfill (garbage mound), undulating paths, but no trees as fear roots displace impenetrable clay cap, but “conceptual forest–dramatic grid of green cedar posts

                   i.       Combines natural and artificial means to provide experience like that of actual nature

                   ii.      Birds to watch, flowers to identify,

                   iii.     Vistas to admire

                   iv.     Wave-like series of hills mimics experience of hiking in Lake District of England

         e.      Smithson’s “Floating Island”: trees and soil on a barge towed around Manhattan by a tugboat

                   i.       Some nonnative trees

                   ii.      No lost island ever there

                   iii.     Barge supporting trees not natural

         f.       Wetlands created at another location: After destroying a wetland and putting a building there, we create a wetland in a different location, miles and miles from original site next to river and couldn’t perform their ecological functions.

         g.      Gardens?

                   i.       Constructed to replicate experience of nature


21.    Virtual nature (artificial nature)

         a.      Natural contents not replaced but simulated by plastic or experience machine

Questions on Ross, Appreciating Gardens and Urban Nature

1.      What are the two extreme views of nature that Ross rejects

2.      What is Ross’ own view of nature? What is her definition of “original nature” and later pristine nature?

3.      According to Ross, why does Elliot believe a restored nature is not natural?

4.      What are two of the features that reduce naturalness, according to Ross?

5.      How can human activities increase naturalness, according to Ross?

6.      Using examples, explain what Ross means by nature being present in urban areas “at the extremes.”

7.      Identify, describe and give examples of Ross’ four categories of less than pristine nature.