In 2014, I went to New Mexico to participate in a Wilderness 50 Conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act into law. I didn’t go as a delegate from any conservation organization or as an employee of any of the agencies associated with U.S. public lands. I went as a citizen eager to learn about how wild places are being protected in this country. I went to lectures, panel discussions, break-out seminars, film presentations and information kiosks. I went on a field trip to a nearby designated wilderness. And then I went home, east of the Mississippi River. I determined that I wanted to visit wilderness areas and work to protect land whatever way I could. I got a job at a land trust six months later.
ADVICE FROM A SEA LION
Soak up some sun
Keep your whiskers clean
Let troubles roll off your back
Don’t flip out
Spend time at the beach
Have a playful spirit
Make a splash!
It is a negligence of the mind not to notice how at dusk heron comes to the pond and stands there in his death robes,
perfect servant of the system, hungry,
his eyes full of attention, his wings pure light…
– Mary Oliver
“There’s Rosemary for you, that’s for remembrance!
Pray you, love, remember.” (Ophelia, Hamlet)
– William Shakespeare
I can’t help wondering how many more years we will be able to view sea lions and great blue herons in places where humans predominate. We’re in the midst of a mass-extinction event called the Holocene or Anthropocene extinction. If the current rate of human disruption of the biosphere continues, one-half of Earth’s higher lifeforms will be extinct by 2100. Seventy percent of biologists polled in 1998 acknowledged this event. It is happening, humans are causing it, and it is ongoing. What is being done to educate the human community and dismantle the anthropocentrism, the human supremacy, that drives behaviors that contribute to the destruction of our planet? Oceans, grasslands, mountaintops, and a host of unique habitats have been plundered and colonized to suit the human appetite for consumption.
Environmentalists are in despair. You can read a million articles and books on the subject. In the last one I read, Eileen Crist says, “In the twenty-first century there will be a reckoning with how we’ve lived, what we’ve done to the planet and ourselves, and that reckoning will set in motion an awakening: a different way to go about things.” Rather than just feeling BLUE about being GREEN, I hope to inspire the humans I know humbly to consider their place in the Tree of Life. Back in the 1940s, Aldo Leopold said we should change the role of homo sapiens “from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.” That attitude, combined with our ability to solve problems, may finally lead us to restrict the damage that we inflict and bring our species back in balance and scale with the rest of the biotic community.
My thanks to Tina Schell, our host this week for the Photo Challenge. Visit her blog to see gorgeous photos of one of the United States’ unique habitats, Kiawah Island.
“National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” Wallace Stegner, 1983
For this week’s photo challenge, Ann-Christine invites us to pick our own theme. I am pleased to show my enthusiasm for the National Park system here in the United States and choose “Pick a Park” as my theme. I have visited many of them across the nation, from Acadia National Park in Maine when I was a preschooler to Pinnacles National Park in California, which was designated a National Park rather than a National Monument in January 2013, the year before I visited. I have also visited a number of other nationally preserved sites – monuments, shores, riverways, caves…but not battlefields. I have participated in citizen science finding fossils at Badlands National Park; gone spelunking at Mammoth Cave, Carlsbad Caverns, and Wind Cave; witnessed geothermal activity at Yellowstone and Hawaii Volcanoes; rode a horse through Bryce Canyon; sailed around the Apostle Islands; camped in the Canyon of the Ancients; picnicked at Capital Reefs; hiked around the Grand Canyon and the Rocky Mountains; and taken pictures at all those sites. And that’s just a small sampling of ways to interact with these astonishing Earth displays. Perhaps you may be planning a visit to one of our Parks yourself to do an activity I’ve never even tried!
“The American way of life consists of something that goes greatly beyond the mere obtaining of the necessities of existence. If it means anything, it means that America presents to its citizens an opportunity to grow mentally and spiritually, as well as physically. The National Park System and the work of the National Park Service constitute one of the Federal Government’s important contributions to that opportunity. Together they make it possible for all Americans–millions of them at first-hand–to enjoy unspoiled the great scenic places of the Nation…. The National Park System also provides, through areas that are significant in history and prehistory, a physical as well as spiritual linking of present-day Americans with the past of their country.”
Newton B. Drury, NPS Director, 1940-1951
Ann-Christine challenges us this week with a beautiful collection of double-exposure photos and quotes about the Future.
What a peculiar responsibility we have, as presumably the only species on Earth with the capacity to think about the Future. And as the dominant species, our actions create an impact that will be felt for a long, long time.
Knowing this, how do we choose to live? How do we spend our time? What do we use, and what do we throw away? What do we create? And how will we, individually, impact the Future?
Looking in my photo archives, I can easily see a few things I’ve done that will influence some part of the Future.
I have planted trees, both on the suburban property I used to own and on public properties as a member of a larger community.
I’ve worked for the past 5 years for a conservation organization, a land trust that buys land to save it from development and plants trees and prairies for wildlife habitat.
But probably the biggest impact I will have on the Future is through my four children, who are now adults. Their choices are no doubt influenced in part by the values we talked about as they matured. Most likely, they will use, create, vote, dispose, and act long after I have ceased to do any of those things. The legacy I will have through them is not mine to predict but theirs to fashion. I am very proud of them, and feel confident that their choices will be intended for good and not for harm.
Ann-Christine and I share a love of trees. I’m glad for her challenge subject today.
Much of the wisdom of the natural world is about how to sustain life in harmony with others. It turns out that Trees are no exception. They share a unique kind of communication via threads of fungi and operate as a living community. That discovery changes the way I see forests and individual trees completely.
“A tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it.”
“It appears that nutrient exchange and helping neighbors in times of need is the rule, and this leads to the conclusion that forests are superorganisms with interconnections much like ant colonies.”
“We have learned that mother trees recognize and talk with their kin, shaping future generations. In addition, injured trees pass their legacies on to their neighbors, affecting gene regulation, defense chemistry, and resilience in the forest community.”
“If a tree falls in the forest there are other trees listening.”
I feel now more than ever how important it is to conserve larger tracts of land containing whole forests, especially mature growth forests. It’s not enough to plant a tree in the yard. Trees are the lungs of the planet, breathing the oxygen that we all depend on into our world.
“An organism that is too greedy and takes too much without giving anything in return destroys what it needs for life.”
Have you thanked a forest today?
Tomorrow is Earth Day. The first Earth Day was April 22, 1970, when
“twenty million Americans displayed their commitment to a clean environment. It was called the largest demonstration in human history, and it permanently changed the nation’s political agenda. By Earth Day 2000, participation had exploded to 500 million people in 167 countries. The seemingly simple idea — a day set aside to focus on protecting our natural environment — was the brainchild of U. S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin. It accomplished, far beyond his expectations, his lifelong goal of putting the environment onto the nation’s and the world’s political agenda.” (from The Man From Clear Lake by Bill Christofferson)
That simple idea – that Earth deserves the attention and respect of all its human inhabitants, and protection from harm – seems to me more fundamental than any other ideology formed around life on this planet.
It boggles my mind that damage done to one magnificent cultural edifice can command more attention than the complete destruction of countless forest cathedrals, that concern over relics of antiquity can eclipse the horror of the extinction of living species…including our own.
“In the last 20 years, over 3.5 million hectares of Indonesian and Malaysian forest have been destroyed to make way for palm oil. Almost 80% of orangutan habitat has disappeared in the last 20 years. We are losing over 6,000 orangutans a year.” (from The Orangutan Project website)
“The Holocene extinction, otherwise referred to as the Sixth extinction or Anthropocene extinction, is a current event, and is one of the most significant extinction events in the history of the Earth.” (Wikipedia)
I want to present to you, on the eve of Earth Day, an invitation to reflect on our hubris, our ignorance, and consider ways to protect, conserve, respect, and champion our planet, perhaps with the affection you might tender towards a venerable ancestor.
She’s been around a long, long time. None of us would be here without her. And we have treated her badly. We have made grave mistakes. Perhaps now we can admit we were wrong and make reparation.
For example, PLASTICS. They’ve only been in existence for 60 years or so. We lived without them before; we can live without them again. No big deal…except if you’re protecting the plastic-producing industry instead of the inhabitants of Earth.
Steve and I found a quiz on Climate Change Solutions that yielded some surprising information. I challenge you to test your assumptions about effective ways to curb climate change by clicking HERE.
How will you honor Earth Day this year?
How are you changing habits that have proven destructive?
How are you encouraging love and respect for the environment in people you know?
Like my hero, Jane Goodall, I have hope in the ability of humans to make moral choices about how to behave towards the planet. In an interview with Mongabay, “Dr. Jane” gives five reasons to have hope for the planet:
- The energy, commitment, and hard work of young people once they understand the problems and are empowered to discuss and ACT upon solutions.
- The human brain.
- The resilience of Nature.
- The indomitable human spirit – the people who tackle seemingly impossible tasks and won’t give up.
- My most recent reason for hope is the power of social media.
I feel acutely the urgency of making better decisions and practicing to do no harm in whatever way we can. Please leave a comment if you would like to share examples of your practice that may edify me and others.
Thank you for reading this post. May you enjoy the beauty of the planet where we live, Earth, in a deeply personal way tomorrow.
(all photos in the gallery under copyright by Priscilla Galasso)
So, my daughter Susan took my photos and made a beautiful slideshow PSA to remind people how important it is to invest in and protect our state ecosystems for the good of the land and for generations to come. Please VOTE on November 6th and use the power of your choice to help conserve our natural places.
“For this week’s challenge, do some visual storytelling with your photography.”
Once upon a time…
I am terribly afraid that this story will end in mining and development and that the places where these photos were taken will be forever altered. However, there is always a chance to re-write the ending.
The example set for this challenge is exceptional. Please take a look at Krista’s post on WordPress.
I am thrilled when someone sets the bar high. “We can do better,” Steve often says, as a sort of mantra to a deeper call to “do no harm”. Here he is in Canyonlands National Park, just outside of Bears Ears National Monument. Can we ascend to higher thinking about how we treat wild places?
The newest addition to the National Park system is Pinnacles National Park. What is our goal for protecting the natural beauty and balance of this place we call America? Have we reached that summit? Are we striving to ascend towards it?
When we broke camp in the Chippewa National Forest on Tuesday morning, the condensation on our tent fly froze instantly. Time to head south to Wisconsin!
Our destination was Bayfield and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Along the way, we stopped at Amnicon Falls State Park. The river was high and rushing mightily, churning up tannin-colored water into thundering root beer cascades.
We told the WDNR ranger that we were thinking of heading towards the western section of the Nicolet-Chequamegon National Forest to camp and to Bayfield to visit the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. She directed us to the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center for more information. Now, you might not get excited about Visitor Centers, but this one is truly amazing. First of all, it’s a quality museum facility featuring interactive exhibits, a National Park Service film, an historical archive library, a bookstore, and an observation deck – three floors of cool stuff! Outside, there’s a nature trail and research nursery. I’m pretty sure the building itself is LEED certified. BEST OF ALL, it is a collaborative effort of the local community (Friends of the Center), the National Park Service, the National Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Wisconsin Historical Society, and University of Wisconsin Extension – which means that staff members from each of those entities are present to answer questions and amplify your understanding of the area. The two we talked to spent considerable time with us, giving us numerous maps and tips and sharing the vision of the Center, its history and unique features. If it hadn’t been so late in the afternoon, and if we didn’t have the urgency of finding a campsite before dark, we would gladly have stayed until closing. Did I mention that admission is completely free? Your tax dollars at work. I took a picture on each floor before heading out with an armload of information.
We camped at an old CCC site in the forest and planned our Bayfield outing. We rose to temperatures in the 20s and headed out for the Grand Tour of the Apostle Islands. The sun was shining, the air was cold, the eagles soared overhead, and I couldn’t have been more invigorated and elated!
We headed southeast from Bayfield to revisit a favorite dispersed camping spot in the town of Three Lakes, WI. Across the forest service road from this site is the Headwaters Wilderness, a true, federally designated wilderness. We first camped in this private paradise seven years ago. It’s in National Forest, so the site is “first come, first served”. I was leaning over the dashboard hoping no-one else was there. We were in luck, and this glorious day had a perfect ending.
The weather turned damp and drizzly the next day, so we only stayed one more night. Our privacy was disturbed once by a sole fisherman who had been tipped off to the spot and came to check it out. We had a pleasant conversation, and he left. We walked the fire service roads and revisited another spot where we’d camped one year when our favorite place was “taken”.
By this time, we hadn’t showered for eight days. I began to picture Steve as Sasquatch emerging from the forest… …which he found rather funny. On our way back to camp from our after-dinner walk, Steve suddenly told me to hold very still. A skunk was foraging at the side of the road. We waited. He crossed the road and began to forage on the other side. We waited. Then, he turned and headed straight for us. My heart was pounding in my chest, and I was barely breathing. The skunk stopped four feet from us and looked up. He turned tail and hustled away from us as fast as his short, furry legs could go! What a relief…what a delight!
Our sojourn in the forest was punctuated by encounters with wildlife of many kinds besides the skunk: beaver, deer, bald eagle, red squirrel, vole, grouse, spider, leech and slug, to name a few. Also hunter. Gunshots rang out near our campsites occasionally. Road hunters in blaze orange cruised by. We found the remains of a grouse at one trailhead. I am almost entirely ignorant of gun culture, mostly by choice. The relationship that Steve & I want to have with the world is non-violent, following the Buddhist koan “do no harm”. Our culture is, however, complex. There’s a lot that I will never understand, and I don’t want to judge. I am grateful that we were able to experience long stretches of silence and peace on this trip, in which we could contemplate our place in the cosmos. Perhaps we are atypical of Wisconsinites, or of Americans. “What do you do out there in the wild if you’re not hunting, or fishing, or riding a motorized vehicle?” We sit. We walk. We sleep. We listen. We look. And I take pictures.
I am very grateful for the land around me and for the people who work to protect and preserve it. I do my best to join in the work. I invite you to as well.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my photo journal.