An interest in natural fitness and training outdoors in an urban environment often gives time spent in nature a precious almost ephemeral feeling, such is the contrast between the greenery of a good city park and much inner city architecture.
The Great Work by American cultural historian Thomas Berry places that feeling within a far larger context, one of a world in which we have developed a fundamentally conflictual relationship between humans and nature.
In his view, there have been various momentous periods in human history already such as the classical Greeks' creation of humanism, the religious writings of Israel, the modernising influence of the Roman Empire and so on. Berry proposes a new Great Work for the 21st century focusing on man's relationship with the planet:
The task now is to carry out the transition from a period of human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would be present in a mutually beneficial manner.
Berry's central premise, and one that ties in with the paleo / primal lifestyle philosophy, is that man's impact on the planet's biosystems has become increasingly damaging since we began to live in settled villages with agriculture and domesticated animals between 5000-10000 years ago.
Man has convinced himself of his supremacy over all other animals and nature itself with devastating consequences for the earth. This has largely been a result of our urbanisation and the subsequent disconnection with our environment, the seasons and nature.
We have developed a heavily extractive economy that takes, takes, takes from nature but gives comparatively little back. Berry's mission is to inspire in his readers a more benign mode of being, one that respects nature rather than abuses it, that nourishes a closer relationship with the world around us.
There is little or no relation to the fields that grow our food, to the streams that provide our water, to the woodlands that surround us, or to the regional flowers and fauna.
Whereas indigenous peoples know their region, where the food and water is, where the medicinal plants are and so on, we have no intimacy with our natural surroundings at all. Indigenous wisdom often extends back far into the Paleolithic period and is distinguished by its intimacy with the natural world, placing it in stark contrast to modern western culture.
Berry's writing style can occasionally veer off into the esoteric, nonetheless there is plenty here for mainstream readers with an interest in ecology and nature.
You can find it online at Amazon here.