I recently set out on a canoe trip that took me and my companions directly into Salt Creek, located in the heart of St. Petersburg, a lasting remnant of our past. It gave us firsthand experience with the waterway and how it has been neglected and left forgotten over the years. We cruised past wharfs and moored boats, and, unbelievably, a waterside bar where the sound of music and companionable voices drifted out to us. It was an odd juxtaposition between the natural and the unnatural, the cross-section of what ought to be considered nature, and the workings of civilization infringing upon its borders. Perhaps the saddest part of the trip was seeing how we have allowed this historic creek to become a dumping ground of our waste and trash. Bottles and plastic bags floated along in melancholic rhythm beside our canoes, and there was an overwhelming feeling that this was a place deemed unimportant to society, and therefore not worthy of our attention.
I have always thought of myself as adventurous and willing to try new things, but I have come to the realization that we as a society are trained to perceive only a certain kind of nature as being beautiful. We look at a picture of a mountain range with snow tipped peaks and we marvel at its grandness, its magnificence. We see wide beaches and blue oceans and blooming flowers: these images have become synonymous with the natural world, with our perceptions of beauty.
I learned the astonishing truth that if something is not necessarily “beautiful” by our polished, unrealistic standards, it is discarded. The plastic reality we have created for ourselves shows nature to be this wonderful, beautiful place with dazzling sunsets and exotic smelling flowers. True nature, however, is a wild beast. It does not always cooperate. If there is one thing that I have learned is that nature is unpredictable, and nearly every time you may try to make a plan, nature simply shakes her head and laughs. Yes, Salt Creek is not fully natural. The machinations of humanity have continuously worked their way like a tangled web across and through its borders, but Salt Creek remains unaffected by our false construction of reality. We don’t have to look for images of nature to be immersed in it. We are forfeiting these small areas of the natural world in favor of our projected ideals of beauty.
I believe that this is what prevents people from seeing the waterway, because we are so stuck in the mire of fake aesthetics. We fail to recognize the real from the unreal. With technology the way it is, we have grown so accustomed to seeing rain forests, mountains, deserts, seas, all at the touch of our fingertips, and yet all through the screen of a manufactured image. I believe that everyone who considers themselves a nature lover ought to step back and ask what it is about nature that they love. Is it because they think of it as being pretty and vibrant? Is it because it is a place where they feel at one with the earth? And what exactly classifies the natural? Salt Creek is worthy of our time and attention because it represents the past that we have left behind. It is a small sliver of nature that has managed to persist through the years, impervious to the rise and fall of civilization around us.