Note: Hello, long time no write. While I may have not written a piece for Touching the Trail since last year, I have taken the time to focus on other aspects of Touching the Trail (the podcast specifically) and my other endeavors. Listening to your body and your journey is a key aspect of bettering yourself and throughout these months not writing on here felt natural. Now, I hope to return to the ritual of writing for Touching the Trail and sharing new perspectives on how to better ourselves. Join me.
P.S.: I began writing this piece after Trump made the announcement on Dec 4 of last year to reduce the sizes of Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument by substantial amounts. These were, and still are, my thoughts on the topic.
To state the fact simply: we are all late to the party. This green and blue rock hurtling through space, on which we all exist, has been stoic for 4.5 billion years. Who are we but devotees praying in an ancient temple? Who are we, but guests?
Guests, indeed we are and as such we have a responsibility to our host: a responsibility of relationship. As humans, we have failed to uphold this responsibility. This responsibility transcends care, transcends respect, and transcends simple conservation or preservation. We must hold ourselves responsible to fall back into awe-filled reverence for this planet that gave us life. This planet has been, is, and will always be our home. Would you rape, pillage, and plunder your own home?
I know that I would not. Throughout my life, I have been inculcated with the principles of Leave No Trace. These principles call for, not only to leave the land as we found it but to leave the land better than we found it. Instead, in our society's seemingly endless effort to ignore common sense, we not only leave the land worse for wear but are proud of its destruction. From the top down and bottom up our government and people are ruled by ego. Not the ego of megalomania, but the ego that Buddhism speaks of: the veil of desire and selfishness that chain us to suffering. A collective suffering grounded in the causes of desire and selfishness.
We forget the beings that share this planet with us and have just as much a right to it as we do. It is estimated that species go extinct at roughly 1000 times higher than the normal background rate of extinction. This massive extinction event, the sixth that we know of, is largely caused by us. Due mainly to habitat loss, the introduction of exotic species, and climate change this devastating extinction event begins and ends with us. We are the root of our own suffering.
The irony is that we are largely blind to our own suffering. We are blinded by our obsession with what is next for ourselves. While that may be a cynical view of our current society’s mindset, the truth of the matter is that the current administration has clearly demonstrated what happens, and who becomes voted into power, when arrogance and ignorance rule. The ‘American Dream’ has morphed into a grotesque reflection of itself: it has become about ‘me, me, me.’ Our ultimately selfish search for instant gratification, which we confuse with happiness, results in an insulated society obsessed with materialism. Faced with that reality it is not an illogical leap to make to find oneself with a megalomaniacal, materialistic, and ignorant President who fears change so much that he feels the need to regress to a suffocatingly nationalistic and hateful country. When we take a step back and realize these aspects of our society we come to understand why care for our planet, and the negative consequences that arise from our lack of care, has fallen so far to the wayside.
That fall from grace has led to the extinction event that we currently find ourselves in and to our general lack of respect for our public lands. For the most part, the people of our society do not truly know the natural wonders this Earth holds. We sit in comfort and do not attempt to connect with our world on a personal level. We drive to the edge of the Grand Canyon and admire from afar. We drive through Yosemite Valley and gawk. Which is exactly why we lose the protection of our public lands: we do not know them.
As such, the truth is that the only people who we can hold responsible are ourselves. While Donald Trump may have signed the reduction of Bears Ears and Grand Escalante, we are responsible. While multi-national corporations may de-forest roughly 40 football fields a minute, we are responsible. While anthropogenic climate change may be causing calamitous effects on our environment and, possibly, irreversible consequences, we are responsible.
However, that responsibility of cause can lead to a responsibility of change. What actions can we take to change the world, to save the world, in an instant? None. There is no magic bullet for saving our world. In that fact, however, is freedom. It allows us to recognize that we have, quite literally, a world of options and opportunity to better this planet and it begins with each of us. It begins with me. It begins with you. The quest to heal our environment arises from an inherent respect for the land, bred at the dawn of our species, but we must rekindle that love for our world. But, how?
A Few Steps to Rekindle (or Fuel) a Relationship with Your Public Lands:
Spend growth time in the outdoors: do not simply admire our lands from the car or lookout point, but immerse yourself within them, learn from them, push yourself mentally and physically within them through sport, and grow with them.
Educate yourself: keep yourself appraised of news relating to the environment and our public lands, educate yourself on the history of our country’s relationship with public lands, and learn about what effects our current (and proposed) policies have on our lands.
Be a conscientious citizen: stay active in the politics relating to the environment and public lands by writing or calling your Congresspeople, joining non-profits or other organizations that campaign/promote/argue for beneficial environmental policies, and VOTE!
Bring others into the fold: help your friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors understand, appreciate, and become involved in the fight to protect our public lands and environment.
Give back: volunteer at trail work days, planting days, trash cleanup days, and other opportunities that help restore our lands.
Leave no trace: practice conscientious outdoor habits and remember to not only leave no trace but leave the lands you enjoyed better than when you arrived.
Call for comments:
What practices, policies, mindsets, and/or focuses should people employ to protect and fight for our public lands and environment?
Pimm, Stuart L., et al. "The biodiversity of species and their rates of extinction, distribution, and protection." Science 344.6187 (2014): 1246752.
Ceballos, Gerardo, Paul R. Ehrlich, and Rodolfo Dirzo. "Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114.30 (2017): E6089-E6096.
“The World Lost 40 Football Fields of Tropical Trees Every Minute in 2017.” Yale Environment 360, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, 27 June 2018, e360.yale.edu/digest/the-world-lost-40-football-fields-of-tropical-trees-every-minute-in-2017.