Nature & Artifice

Joe Chafkin

PHOTOS: Amado Stachenfeld, Max Houtazager

LOCATION: Bay Area, California

“Feel your toes digging into the earth below, your lungs filling with salty air, the breeze whispering profound truths in your ear. It’s the realest sensation we’re afforded in this life.”

Nowhere is the contrast between environment and artifice more apparent than in the coastal crags and rolling hills of the Bay Area. Fort Point strikes awe into the hearts of countless SF surfers half because of its natural beauty, half because of scenery like the Golden Gate towering on the horizon, reflected in a shimmering, breathing kaleidoscope of black water. Silicon Valley, home to tech giants driving us into the future, lies in the shadow of the breathtaking Santa Cruz Mountains. The Bay, in short, is more than a hub for innovation: it’s home to some of the most stunning manifestations of natural beauty to be found on earth.

Reality has increasingly become filtered through our devices, as a result drastically changing the way we see and interact with the world around us. Innovation is no longer an arduous uphill climb, but has begun to snowball, gaining social and financial momentum, propelling us into the future faster and faster, perhaps faster than we’d want it to. We initially brought all of this technology into our lives for the sake of convenience, but now struggle when the most convenient solution isn’t necessarily the most satisfying.

The journey is a process, and cutting corners often means forgoing important lessons and experiences in exchange for a sort of immediate yet incomplete gratification. So it’s no wonder when we feel like something is missing; this is perhaps the prevailing sentiment of our modern era, an indistinct longing, a constant frustration. It’s what happens in the absence of curiosity — we don’t seek out answers, they’re handed over in fractions of a second. We become disconnected from our identities without the search. Immersed in our own creations, we all but forget about what it means to be human, to be an individual, to be of this earth. We lose track of nature’s importance without devoting the hours and energy necessary to appreciate and understand it, to revel in it and capture its essence: we can be lulled into complacency, desensitized, adrenally fatigued, never leaving our respective bubbles. The further we drift from these genuine experiences, the more we come to depend on artificial stimuli. Feel your toes digging into the earth below, your lungs filling with salty air, the breeze whispering profound truths in your ear. It’s the realest sensation we’re afforded in this life.

Sometimes, it might feel like we’ve lost the reins, but we haven’t. Our priorities shift according to where we focus our time and efforts. Nature can serve as a constant, always an available retreat, a refuge more immersive and compelling than any virtual reality ever could be. And the more one escapes, the more he or she is filled with the urge to return. Technology can insulate us from outside world. That doesn’t mean we should let it.