Before law, before justice, before rights and duties, responsibility and interpretation, before even life: there was nature. Imagine we never were, or not yet are. All is matter and energy; pure physicality. Earth differs from other planets and heavenly bodies only in the details of how matter and energy work themselves into configurations of form and process. On this watery, tilted planet – the planet with soil – wind, water, and ice; gravity, inertia, and seismic pressures; evaporation and condensation; freeze and thaw were all at work long before footprints appeared; long before egg or bone. And even now, if humans and all of the animals and plants were to disappear, the forces of nature would continue to cut, lift, push, and drop. Following a total ecological collapse winds would blow, rain would fall and gather into tree-shaped networks, waves would beat against and reshape beaches and bluffs. Rock, sand, silt, and clay would be put into motion and laid to rest. Our works would be buried, their elements reclaimed. These earth-shaping forces and processes and the forms that they produce are emblems of nature at its most autonomous, indifferent, and enduring. All cause and effect; no reason or purpose. These are the elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Nature shapes itself gently, continuously; abruptly or episodically – blindly or, we might say, senselessly.
Imagine we never were. Or, imagine yourself standing before a prehistoric, prehominid diorama at a natural history museum.