Scouting trails, spring season, hiking, Yellowstone, gratitude, yoga, connections, compassion, national parks…. Words and vague ideas float through my brain as I drink tea, look out the window, watching low clouds lift and fall, revealing then concealing the jagged summit of Electric Peak. I sit with the computer in lap, warming my thighs on this chilly mid June morning. Fred’s fire begins to send heat into the room, as I consider ideas. Rarely do we have full days of rain and clouds. This four-day streak is, thankfully, unusual. (Though I don’t complain as it keeps the land green and slows the relentless rush of water to river to sea.)
National parks. Those two words conjure up first mental images of beauty and wildness, then the words ‘America’s best idea’ slide into my conscious. So, to the web I go, searching for Wallace Stegner’s quote, one I’ve used before, one that sometimes raises my emotions, causing me to pause and gulp before I can complete reading the words aloud.
And with that small action, I am in love. Wallace Stegner was a genius with words. But I can’t tell you. Let me show you.
“National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”
Read those words aloud. Yes, national parks are our best idea. His words give me hope as I strive to keep the fires of faith burning in the darkness of today’s politics.
His observation below introduces the Wilderness Act of 1964:
“Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clear air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence . . .”
During his campaign for California governor, Ronald Reagan said: “….you know, a tree is a tree. How many more do you need to look at?” Perhaps Stegner wrote the following passage in response to Reagan’s attitude. While the first sentence is a repeat, this paragraph goes more deeply into our need for wild country.:
“Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed. We need wilderness preserved — as much of it as is still left, and as many kinds — because it was the challenge against which our character as a people was formed We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.”
If we wonder how so many in today’s world can be so callous to our human need for wilderness, Stegner has the sad answer. Consider his words:
“Whatever landscape a child is exposed to early on, that will be the sort of gauze through which he or she will see all the world afterwards.”
What lens will today’s children use to see the world? The haze of malls, theaters and classrooms with manufactured outdoor areas like playgrounds? The recent success of the book ‘Last Child in the Woods’ by Richard Louv chills me, as its very popularity points to the seriousness of nature deficit disorder (a newly coined term terrifying for its accuracy) not only in today’s children, but in today’s teachers as well.
I, for one, am glad for apple trees to climb, orchards through which to run, and fields to wander. My world-view gauze includes those childhood moments of freedom in the natural world, and has expanded with each outdoor experience. Wilderness is how I define myself. I wish and hope for the gauze of the joy of wildness and the importance of public lands to fall over today’s children, to enliven them with beauty and understanding of our connection to the robin, the wolf, the deer, even to the dandelion.
“What is such a resource worth? Anything it costs. If we never hike it or step into its shade, if we only drive by occasionally and see the textures of green mountainside change under wind and sun, or the fog move soft feathers down the gulches, or the last sunset on the continent redden the sky beyond the ridge, we have our money’s worth. We have been too efficient at destruction; we have left our souls too little space to breathe in. Every green natural place we save saves a fragment of our sanity and gives us a little more hope that we have a future.”
Wallace Stegner has given me my geography of hope . Today’s wish for you, dear reader, is to feel the hope and to act upon that hope–to get out there and hike and fish and mess around with your friends… to sit quietly a while and contemplate that precious stillness within. And to take that hope, mold it into strength and determination.