Natural me: crossing the line


adjective \ˈna-chə-rəl, ˈnach-rəl\

existing in nature and not made or caused by people

 – Merriam-Webster

I am me, naturally

Who am I? There are so many ways to delineate the concept that I think of as “me”.

On a purely physical level, you could make the argument that I am simply a collection of living cells that have combined forces to preserve one another. On an even more basic physical level, you could say that I am made up of atoms that react with one-another according to well-defined rules.

Looking at it from a psychological perspective, you could say that I am a conglomerate of emotions, ideas, memories, and motivations that collectively make the personality known as Dan Hentschel.

There’s also a spiritual perspective. I believe that I am a product of a benevolent, intelligent creator who has designed me as an everlasting being, in His image.

Natural me

I am a homo sapiens, a primate, a mammal, a chordate. If you trace my scientific classification all the way up, I am considered to be a part of the animal kingdom.

My seventh grade Life Sciences text book told me that I am descended from chimpanzees, or perhaps chimps and humans are parallel developments from some earlier primate ancestor. Before primates there were rat-like mammals, which were preceded by reptile / mammal hybrids, then tetrapods, then fish, invertebrates… all the way back to single-celled organisms.

Through a process of mutation and natural selection, I was determined to be the most fit form of primate (so far) for my habitat. Congratulations to me.

Unnatural me

And yet, despite the insistence of my seventh grade Life Sciences book, our culture tells me that I am not natural. In fact, nature and I are at war with each other.

I take a shower or flush the toilet, and I use up gallons of water. I order a pizza, and I use fossil fuels to cook it and deliver it, generating greenhouse gasses in the process, I kill trees to make the pizza box, which I then throw into a landfill, and I kill a pig and a cow to put pepperoni on top.

The message is clear: every day I am hurting nature. Little-by-little, the actions that I perform are destroying this beautiful, natural world.

Nature hater?

Do I hate nature? Absolutely not! On the contrary, I love nature: woods, mountains, beaches, flowers, and animals. I also happen to love some man-made things as well: cities and buildings, monuments, canals, bridges and dams.

I don’t love the bizarre, double-minded thinking of our culture about humans and nature. Are we a part of nature or aren’t we? If we are are part of nature, then what is the purpose of the distinction between natural and man-made? Why don’t we have terms for chimpanzee-made or tiger-made?

Humans are different

Perhaps we were “natural” at some point in our history, but the moment the human race started to contemplate our impact on nature, we became separate from it. A squirrel doesn’t think about its impact on nature. A squirrel does what it does. It eats and stores seeds and nuts. It climbs trees. It has babies.

No animal affects nature to the extent we humans do, though. The human race has practically covered the globe, consuming resources wherever we go. But that’s broken thinking again. Does the extent of our impact make it less natural? Based on natural selection, the extent to which we have affected the environment just highlights our fitness to it.

It’s all a matter of perception. We see ourselves as unnatural because we are able to perceive and assess our impact on the world around us.

Nature in the balance

The war between humans and nature needs to stop. Just as squirrels do the things that squirrels do, people do the things that people do. We take showers and flush toilets. We order pizzas with pepperoni on top. We live.

Nature is in constant flux. The fossil record shows many snapshots of nature that are very different from the one that we know. Change is not necessarily a bad thing. Once again, the badness is injected by our own perspective.

Due to human influence, nature is currently in a period of rapid change. Is it definitely change for the worse? How do you even quantify such a thing? Change is scary. We know the nature of the past, and we like it. The nature of the future is yet to be seen.

Any change in nature is bound to be bad for certain forms of life, and good for others. I find it hard to believe that anything we do would completely wipe out all life on the planet. The real danger, from my point of view, is that we will change our planet to the extent that it becomes difficult, or even impossible, for humanity to thrive on it.

So what’s the big deal?

If we are just a collection of atoms or cells, then what does it matter if the human race ceases to exist? There will be other collections of atoms and groups of cells, just not in human form.

The story is much the same if I am defined by my emotions, ideas, memories, and motivations. My thoughts may seem very important to me right now, but once I’m gone they will fade.  If all the people on Earth were to disappear tomorrow, who would mourn their passing?

Without the spiritual perspective, preservation of life is simply maintaining status quo out of a fear of change. Our actions take on meaning when we know that they are being weighed by an eternal observer.

The Bible tells me, in apparent opposition to my seventh grade textbook, that I am created for God’s pleasure. It says that He loves me and gave me this world, and everything in it, as a gift and as a responsibility. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

I believe that it is my responsibility to cherish and care for nature not out of misplaced nostalgia, not out of fear of change, not out of a guilty conscience, but out of a love and respect for the creator who gave it into my care.

– danBhentschel

Well it’s not Harry Potter…

Harry Potter has forever changed the face of young adult fantasy literature, and has arguably affected all fantasy literature, for all time. The Harry Potter legacy is simultaneously a blessing and a curse to any novel that can be even remotely compared to the seminal heptalogy.

Case in point: I went onto Amazon and searched for Slathbog’s Gold, book 1 of the Adventurers Wanted series. I then went to the reviews section and searched the reviews for “Harry Potter”. Now let’s be clear. Slathbog’s Gold is absolutely nothing like Harry Potter in any way except that it features a young boy who encounters a magical world. And yet my search provided me with such gems as:

…[this book] is outclassed by Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Harry Potter…

…This book was better then [sic] the Harry Potter books…

…If you loved harry potter [sic] then you will love this book as well….

…At certain points it reminded me a bit of Harry Potter…

I read, and research, a lot of young adult fantasy novels, in pursuit of reading material for my children, and I encounter such inappropriate comparisons on a regular basis.

The Harry Potter series of books is unique in history. There will probably never be anything quite like it ever again. I’m not saying that Harry Potter is the best literary work ever. I won’t even try to claim that it’s the pinnacle of young adult fantasy. So then what exactly is Harry Potter in the grand scheme of things, and why will every fantasy story be compared to it for decades to come?

Harry is well written

Granted it’s not Charles Dickens. To my knowledge, there’s no deep symbolism in Harry Potter. In fact, when the series tries to wax philosophical (most notably in the seventh novel) it feels unnatural and forced.

But the discord of these sections is so pronounced simply because the rest of the series flows so unaffectedly. Let’s call it what it is. Harry Potter is fun to read.

Harry matures with the audience

Harry is still somewhat unique in this regard even today. The seven books were released in the 10 year period between 1997 and 2007. In The Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry is 11. In the events of The Deathly Hallows, he is 17. I believe that a large part of Harry’s success can be attributed to the fact that he and his main audience grew up together at approximately the same rate.

It’s not only the characters who matured, though. The subject matter gets considerably heavier the further you go into the series. The first couple of novels are clearly geared towards adolescents, and are very light, episodic fare, with just a hint of foreshadowing here and there. Later novels, though, are weighty tomes, full of teenage angst, deceit, destruction, and death.

I think it’s fair to assume that the series would have received much less attention had the first installment been more like the last.

Harry deals with serious issues

As I mentioned in the previous section, the Harry Potter books get into some pretty weighty subject matter. Harry and his friends (enemies? friends / enemies?) deal with a wide array of issues including severe bullying, exclusion (both actual and perceived), emotional and physical abuse, the loss of loved ones, teenagers who want to be adults, various forms of self-doubt and guilt, and all manner of romantic confusions.

The challenges faced by the Hogwarts protagonists resonate strongly with an audience who has struggled repeatedly with similar issues. Harry lives life. Life amplified, but still life.

Harry was a cultural phenomenon

Beyond all of this, aside from all of its merits, and ignoring all of its flaws, the Harry Potter series was undeniably a phenomenon. It started out with word-of-mouth. Have you heard about those children’s books about a school for magicians?

Within just a few short years, everyone knew about it. The new releases were heavily advertised in bookstores across the nation. The first movie was in theaters six years before the release of book seven, and it was a box office smash, earning over $900 million world-wide.

Over the next several years, as books and movies continued to tumble in on a regular cadence, the public response built like an avalanche to a frenzied anticipation that preceded the release of the final novel in the series. People discussed endlessly: Is Snape good or evil? Did he really kill Dumbledore?

To find out the answer, people pre-ordered books by the millions, and stood in line on the day of release. Some even took vacation from work, or skipped school to read the conclusion of Harry’s journey.

According to Wikipedia, all 7 of the Harry Potter novels are among the top 20 best-selling books of all-time.

Harry is forever, and always, unique

I will say it again. There will likely never be another series of books like Harry Potter. The franchise produced seven novels and eight movies in the fourteen years between 1997 and 2011. The movies collectively grossed $7.7 billion in world-wide sales. The books have collectively sold almost 450 million copies.

Harry has changed the landscape of literature forever. An entire generation of fantasy lovers was born from reading about the boy who lived. Every young adult fantasy novel written, both before and after, has been privileged to bask in the light of Harry. Every young adult fantasy novel written, both before and after, will live in Harry’s shadow.

– danBhentschel

Games I played in the summer of 2014

I enjoy board games. Okay, so maybe that’s a bit of an understatement. I love board games. When I’m not playing, I listen to talk shows about board games. I watch video reviews on YouTube. I think about playing games, and I even ponder designing my own board games. Here is a quick rundown of games that I have played in the past few months.

7 Wonders
  • 7 Wonders – This is somewhat of a staple in our house. It offers a lot of decisions but does a good job of streamlining the game play so that you can play, what feels like a pretty complicated game, in about 45 minutes.
Airlines Europe
  • Airlines Europe – In this game you invest in different airlines by expanding their business and by buying stock. The winner is the player who has the most stock in the most successful airlines.
  • Caverna: The Cave Farmers – You’re a dwarf family living in a cave. Grow crops, raise livestock, have babies, go on adventures, and expand your cave. So many ways to win. What will you focus on?
  • Elfenland – You’re an elf wandering the land, riding on dragons, unicorns, and even a giant boar. Whoever visits the most cities in four rounds wins.
For Sale
  • For Sale – Super easy to learn, and takes just 15 minutes to play. You purchase homes ranging in opulence from a cardboard box to a space station. You then resell the homes you have purchased. Whoever has the most money at the end wins.
Get Bit!
  • Get Bit! – Another quick and easy-to-learn game. You’re a robot swimming away from a shark. If you get caught, you lose a limb. Lose too many limbs, and you’re lunch.
  • Hanabi – You’re all working together to build an impressive fireworks display. The catch: you hold your cards backwards. You can see everyone else’s cards, but not your own. Pay attention to the hints your cohorts give you so that you can play the correct cards at the proper time.
Lord of the Rings
  • Lord of the Rings: The Board Game – This is also a cooperative game. Work together to get your hobbits to mount doom so that you can destroy the ring. Accomplish quests that follow the story line from the books, but don’t let the eye of Sauron discover you.
Lords of Waterdeep
  • Lords of Waterdeep – Send out your agents to the businesses of Waterdeep, recruiting wizards, clerics, warriors, and thieves to go on quests for you. The player who best utilizes his resources will win.
Love Letter
  • Love Letter – 16 cards. That’s the whole game. Each person has a single card in their hand. On your turn you draw a card and play a card. Try to figure out what card your opponents are holding to win the game.
No Thanks!
  • No Thanks! – As simple as they come. Each turn you’re presented with a card. Do you want to keep it or pass it on to your neighbor? Take too many cards and you’ll lose the game. Plays in just 10 minutes, but it’s a blast every time.
Puerto Rico
  • Puerto Rico – Build your city, start plantations, hire colonists, trade and export goods. You are in charge of the budding economy of the island of Puerto Rico. This game leaves almost nothing to chance. Try to anticipate what your opponents will do while making choices that benefit you.
Puzzle Strike
  • Puzzle Strike – Build your arsenal of fighting techniques (pog-like chips) to crash gems into your opponents’ gem piles. The first player to 10 gems loses. Yeah, it makes no sense at all, but it sure is fun.
  • Rampage – You are a monster running amok in the city, throwing vehicles, knocking down buildings, and eating the citizens. Just like the classic arcade game of the same name. So much so, in fact, that the publisher recently had to change the game’s name to Terror in Meeple City, presumably because of a cease and desist.
  • Seasons – Big, chunky dice, beautiful (and bizarre)  artwork, and deep strategy. This game has a lot going for it. Use air, water, fire, and earth to create and cast spells. Call in familiars to help out. Convert your resources to crystals to score points. Whoever has the most points at the end wins.
Settlers of Catan
  • Settlers of Catan – Collect the resources wood, clay, stone, sheep, and wheat so that you can build roads, settlements, and cities, so that you can collect more resources so that… the first to 10 points wins. Catan is a classic, and for good reason. Easy to learn, but with plenty of strategy.
Small World
  • Small World – What race will you be today? Will you be pillaging elves? Or alchemist amazons? Or diplomatic giants? How about heroic halflings? Make your pick, and then start conquering regions. There’s just one problem: this world is too small for all of us…
  • Splendor – This game is practically the ideal combination of simple concepts, deep strategies, and quick game play. Collect gems to buy cards to get more cards to get points. First to 15 wins. A game takes only about 30 minutes, but I bet you’ll want to play again.
Star Realms
  • Star Realms – Only $15, fits in your pocket, plays in 20 minutes, quick to setup, easy to learn, quick to put away… shall I go on? I love this game. Perfect deck building game for two players.
The Three Little Pigs
  • The Three Little Pigs – It’s a kids’ game and I play it… wait for it… with my kids! Seriously, this is great fun for the under 10 crowd, and still entertaining for the adults who play it with them.
  • Trains – Is it a board game or a card game? Yes! Collect cards so that you can lay out tracks and build stations on the board. Or should you focus on just the point cards? Or should you try to block your opponents’ tracks? So many ways to play. Not the most beautiful game, but lots of fun anyway.
Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar
  • Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar – Place your workers on the gears, and then give them a spin. Make sure that you pick them up at the right time to get the most points and resources. Don’t forget to feed them! This is probably the most complex game that I own. I don’t get it, but I want to play just one more time. Maybe I’ll figure it out next game!

– danBhentschel