I can’t say that nature is voiceless. Godnose she’s speaking loudly now. Driving home from scenic, fun-filled Del Norte yesterday with a friend after celebrating her 70th birthday, all we could talk about was the recent fire in our town and the incredible dryness of the landscape all around us. Everything else in our conversation returned to that.
Whether or not we humans contributed to what’s happening now remains, for many, an open question. For me? No. I’m sure humans have contributed to this. Can we stop it? I don’t think so. Maybe the best we can do right now is not make it worse through our actions. Maybe.
The size of nature is truly beyond our comprehension since it’s basically EVERYTHING including us. That’s why many humans talk about nature as if it were something external, but it isn’t. It is us and we are it. We humans truly cannot live without it. 😉
In 1970 when I went to one of the two demonstrations of my life, the first Earth Day, I was only 18. I ditched school, had my mom’s car, took some friends down to Colorado College (Colorado Springs), and we stood around and listened to speeches. I don’t know about my friends, but I felt two things. One, that I was DOING something, two, that it would change things. In reality, I wasn’t DOING anything and the actions taken by people all over the US that day DID change things that desperately needed changing, for one thing the Environmental Protection Agency was formed, partly as a result of Earth Day 1970.
I never imagined Earth Day would turn into an annual event, a semi-holiday and a celebration? What? But 23 years later I was in San Diego representing Mission Trails Regional Park — an urban wilderness park I was working for.
It is a large swath of open space surrounded by city and a Navy base. I hiked there almost daily with my dogs. I didn’t know it was being fought over by the various “powers” who fight over things, but it was. When I accidentally met the president of the foundation one day, “my” chaparral had only recently achieved protection from development. From there it would move forward to become the largest urban wilderness park in the United States, then 5800 acres, now 7000 acres. In “my day” I was often the only human wandering the trails; now it’s a very popular destination for hikers and mountain bikers. All the work I/we did was to prepare the delicate landscape for its future. Our idea was that if people WENT there, SAW it and LEARNED about it, they would value it and protect it. I don’t know if that theory has held or not. I suspect it’s 50/50. Some people get it, some people don’t. Those who don’t regard the trails and hills as a commodity that exists for their enjoyment; a product, not a living thing.
And THAT is the tension between nature and humans.
I have thought a lot about my evolution as a hiker, not as a matter of the physical changes that take place over time (grrrrr….) but in the depth of my understanding of my own actions. When I first started hiking the chaparral (which is incredibly fragile and highly flammable) I cut trails wherever I wanted to. I followed deer trails up hills, cut across areas where, I later learned, wildflowers grew. I thought I loved nature and that’s why I wasn’t “controlled”by the trails and fire roads that were right there, too. Over time, I began to see that I wasn’t “loving” nature. It wasn’t about my “freedom” to go wherever I wanted. By the time it became a park, and I was working with the rangers to lead groups of volunteers building trails, I was adamant about staying on trails. The advantages of that weren’t just preservation of the landscape, but safety. Rattlesnakes are everywhere in that landscape and a lot more visible on the trail than off.
Yesterday — in the incredibly beautiful magazine (catalog) put out by Patagonia — I read an article on clean climbing by Mailee Hung. Clean climbing is basically climbing rocks in such a way that the rocks are not damaged by the protection used by climbers to stay safe in their ascents and descents. It’s a HUGE topic and I’m no expert. BUT it’s also a philosophy — leave no trace? Pack out your shit (literally and figuratively)? Hung’s article concluded with a statement that sums up exactly what I believe we humans need to shoot for in everything we do — as much as possible. “Clean climbing means restraint in the face of our egos and humility in the face of nature, an effort at self-mastery rather than world-domination.”
That’s the lesson.
Featured photo: My friend Lois’ son, Mark, and me at Earth Day/March for Science, 2017, Colorado Springs