Nature,” the Oxford English Dictionary tells us, is “the phenomena of the physical world collectively … as opposed to humans or human creations.” There’s us, and there’s our environment. But the Latin root of the word, nat, meaning “born,” seems to soften the opposition by suggesting a very human beginning. The Chinese translation of “nature” goes further, using the character for “self” and collapsing the opposition completely. Where the definition separates us from nature, the word itself reminds us how linked we are.

In this month’s special issue of Nautilus we present four in-depth “Prelude” stories from our print Quarterly, online in full for the first time. They describe the broken boundary between our lives and the environment around us, and take us to four very different places: African river beds, the aisles of a Costco big-box store, the forests of the continental United States, and the jungles of Amazonian Peru. Along with a collection of shorter stories, both old and new, they remind us how deeply personal the idea of “natural” really is. Nature emerges not just as a backdrop, but as a character on stage with us, and one who can be remarkably human.

Welcome to “In Our Nature.”

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