In This Together

I drove north, planning on camping on the Pecos river and fly-fishing for a few days. As I passed the brown Adobe of Santa Fe I didn’t understand why I would stop at the Pecos Wilderness. I could keep driving north, on through to Colorado, meeting my wife in Denver for a concert later in the week. So I did.

I drove through the setting sun, into the mountains of southern Colorado, and watched as their silhouettes grew more jagged and prominent in the rising moon. I climbed further north and deeper into the night. I had no real destination to speak of, but my directions were taking me towards Rocky Mountain National Park. As I began to tire I pulled over somewhere northwest of Silverthorne, about an hour south of the park. I found a campground and set myself up as light shown through the gathering clouds. I heard the slapping of waves coming from somewhere just beyond the mouth of my tent, but, exhausted, I decided to leave that exploring for the morning.

When I awoke I saw I had chosen a campsite alongside a large body of water with lower-hanging mountains on its eastern edge. My hamlet rested fairly lonesome above the high-water line, less that a hundred yards east of the entrance to a cove, about three-hundred yards across from north to south. The water was sapphire blue with occasional chop lapping against the banks: stoney outcrops backed by steep black pack, crested with sage and purple and yellow asters. A beauty to be sure. The gray clouds had gathered significantly and framed my yellow tent with a swath of pencil-lead. It was here I would lay my head for the next few days, exploring the nearby Arkansas River and hiking the relatively low mountains. Rain came and went and I enjoyed the rhythm of the waves on those dark and cloudy August nights. Lightening provided a show the likes of which cannot be duplicated by a television.

I packed leisurely the morning of my departure, looking upon my inlet in content and nostalgic silence until the hum of a motor grew louder and I saw a speed boat power through my field of vision, straight into the narrow cove, pulling a water skier in it’s wake. The chop increased. Time to go, I thought, and started the car with a sense of irony.

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As I drove away from that space a question entered my mind regarding how we are to enjoy the natural world. Is there a better way? Ed Abbey railed against motorists in the National Parks 50 years ago to no avail, and if you travel to any of our nation’s most protected lands you will see the results of over half-a-century of automobile use and motorized recreation. These mod cons bring more people to the land and that can possibly cause more conservation efforts by those who have been touched by nature. More often motorists bring litter, pollution (both air and noise), and that sense of entitlement that comes with the privilege of being a private transportation traveler. It’s indicative of a greater problem: humans see themselves as separate from the natural world, observing it as though through a window at a zoo. This viewpoint has led to a health crisis not only for the Earth, but for the human race as well.

The answer to my previously posed question is a resounding “YES!” There is a correct way to enjoy nature, but not entirely for the reason some might think. The idea that human beings are separate from the natural world is an example of dualistic thinking. It’s the age-old “us and them” mentality and, as with most dualistic thinking, it’s quite incorrect. Humans are a part of the natural world; just like plants, animals, insects, dirt, and rivers. We come from the natural world, we are not born from something other. The two transitive properties that we now have are thus:

  1. Humans are separate from the natural world, we have consciousness and therefore we are above the nature. This leads to thoughts and actions that can be destructive to the environment.
  2. Humans are an intrinsic part of the natural world, our sense of consciousness encompasses all living things. If we are part of the natural world, we are subject to the all the consequences the natural world experiences. This leads to thoughts and actions that are uplifting and life-giving, both for the Earth and for ourselves.

One of the basic tenets of ecopsychology is that by healing the earth we can heal ourselves. There are a lot of reasons for this: a basic sense of altruism and fulfillment, a feeling of being grounded, and the simple fact that you get a heavy dose of vitamin D and endorphins when you engage outdoors activities being a only a few. I think the more salient affect comes from the innate connection human beings have with the planet: When we give life to the Earth, we give life to ourselves. The increased sense of isolation from our planet is killing both of us.

When we enjoy our public lands we have a responsibility to care for those lands so that they survive. If they don’t survive, we don’t survive. It’s not as simple a problem of hearing a buzzing dirt bike when you’re trying to quietly observe an eagle’s nest or fix a fly to your line. The problem is that the buzzing of a dirt bike cuts deep into the health of the Earth, and thereby cuts deep into the health of our society.

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We must enjoy nature with the care and responsibility that we approach anything else in our lives. It sustains us and it is a litmus for the health of humanity. Right now the prognosis is dim, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be turned around. Outdoors writer Ad Crable once told me that we should always aim to leave nature looking better than we found it. Perhaps that’s where we start. ATVs and dirt bikes are next.

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