February 20, 2003

By Michael Strickland

A Man is a God in Ruins

"The charming landscape which I saw this morning, is indubitably made
up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that,
and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the
landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he
whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet. This is the best
part of these men's farms, yet to this their warranty-deeds give no title."
—Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Nature"

Last night, I came across a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that I jotted down several years ago: "A man is a god in ruins." Those seven words say a lot. But in an effort to better understand their context, I searched out their source and located Emerson's essay "Nature." In the piece, Emerson waxed both poetic and philosophical in describing man's connection with nature.

Though the essay was written in 1849, it seems more relevant than ever in our modern era. Emerson wrote about man's contact with nature, how we can't really see the divine around us unless we let go of ourselves and "see the miraculous in the common." In a world in which cell phones, video games and reality TV vie for our nanosecond attention spans, we regard leaves blowing in the gutter or a snail slithering across the driveway with less attention than we give the crumbs in the bottom of the toaster. We can't see the landscape for the farms. If we are gods, we are more ruinous than ever.

On the surface, this seems a broad generalization. After all, most people enjoy outdoor activities. Here in San Diego, especially, you see people hiking, bicycling and walking along the beach all the time. But that's not what I'm referring to, nor, I think, what Emerson was trying to say. It's not about getting in your car, leaving your world and getting out into nature. It's finding nature in your everyday life: watching two crows quarrel in the alley outside your window, taking a moment to study the veins in a leaf as you do yardwork, stopping to notice a bee dying on the ground as you walk across a parking lot.

"The lover of nature," wrote Emerson, "is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood." I try to live my life this way, to remain open to the everyday miracles. In fact, it's often what keeps me sane when I spend a day sequestered in an office cubicle. Those fleeting moments spending my breaks outside, staring at the clouds above and the weeds below, make the fluorescent lights and commercial carpeting bearable—barely.


©2003 Michael Strickland ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

What is "The Daily Strick"?

I have long called myself a writer, but too often I don't do what a writer must do daily: write. So you, dear reader, are the beneficiary of my resolution to make a positive change in at least one area of my life. Every single day of this new year, I will write something, anything, and post it here. It is my intention to use this daily exercise to jump-start my too-long-dormant creative energies, and perhaps generate some worthwhile material this year. Hopefully you will find at least an occasional amusement or insight in my daily musings.

Today's Column
Send a Comment


2/19: No Man is an Island
2/18: Iraq's "Cooperation"
2/17: Failure to Communicate
2/16: Cold City
2/15: Man-Eaters of Tsavo
2/14: Valentine Gems
2/13: Grab Bag
2/12: The End is Near
2/11: And the Winner Is...
2/10: Exploration is Risky Business
2/9: Staphylococcus
2/8: Morning Cup of Kofi
2/7: Game Over
2/6: The Eagle Never Landed
2/5: Pope: Potter No Problem
2/4: Time for Another Rewrite
2/3: A Matter of Opinions
2/2: Suicidal Bravado
2/1: Godspeed, Columbia

Like what you've read?
Find more good reading on

In Association with Amazon.com

(and support future Daily Stricks!)