I loved this piece when I read it back in December, and not just because he mentioned Annie Dillard in it…
For many, myself included, criticizing nature doesn’t come, well, naturally. My own preferred recreational activities—hiking, climbing, running, snorkeling, riding horses—embed me in nature. I have surrounded myself with animals of all sorts, and I try to avoid consuming pesticides, herbicides, and the antibiotics and hormones to which industrial agriculture has become addicted. I was delighted when a natural-foods supermarket recently opened within a mile of our home, and I patronize it almost exclusively.
Nonetheless, in resisting many things that I view as “unnatural”—nuclear weapons, global warming, chemical pollution, habitat destruction—while also honoring, respecting, defending, admiring, and nearly worshiping many things that are natural (sometimes just because they are natural), it is all too easy to get carried away, to forget that much in the world of nature is unpleasant, indeed odious. Consider typhoid, cholera, polio, plague, and HIV: What can be more natural than viruses or bacteria, composed as they are of proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, and the like? Do you object to vaccination? You’d probably object even more to smallpox.
The rest is here and so, so good.