bardcat has graciously shared his lovely memoir,Traveling on Grace Street, which has stimulated and informed this entry. I thank him without asking him to accept any responsibility for what i say here.
I have always been drawn to birds and mountains and canyons and sun and rain and rivers and rocks and trees. Not until recently have mammals, flowers, seas, and skies received my attention, but now that i have noticed them i can scarcely yank my gaze away. I love nature, and though heading slowly (fingers crossed) toward infirmity, i like to be out in it rather than watching it through a window or through the eyes of others.
Not all people love nature. Even i don't love it all the time. Certainly when my friends have friends who have lost loved ones in the fire fueled floods, i find i place them above nature in my concern. Fires and floods are part of nature (though probably more destructive because of "civilization and artificiality.")
There are people who love nature because they love God and know that God created nature. I just love nature flat out without concerns of cause and effect. There is plenty of cause for there to be nature lovers for whatever reasons they have. I guess it was ok when nature was profaned as long as the notion of stewardship remained. But stewardship gave way to use, which give way to destruction, which gave way to hate, which gave way to indifference. Now nature herself is trying to awaken us from that indifference by telling us that when she goes we humans will disappear with her. Science fiction has us leaving a dying planet to find greater adventures and lovelier homes elsewhere. But that is fiction. There is no other home for us. We are humans (humus), earthlings, born on and of earth and bound to it so long as we both shall live.
The Taoists were very well aware of floods and famines, They did not use words like "benevolent" to describe nature. But they held nature to be sacred, and to be our teacher, superior to ourselves as teachers of, what i would call, the divine will. They and their Zen Buddhist heirs went to nature as the source of all philosophical, spiritual, and practical knowledge.
Nature, like all words in the English language has many meanings, the one that resonates with me now is definition 4 in the third edition of the American Heritage Dictionary: Nature is what is, or what was before we started messing with it. The proto-indo-european root of the word is gene from which is derived kin, king, kind (1), kind (2), gentle, generate. genius, engine, genuine, germ, genital, pregnant, nation, and native -- as well as nature.