I wonder if Abbey ever felt this way, or Muir, or Roosevelt. A sort of melancholy joy that all of this is fleeting. Perhaps I worry too much. It’s hard not to. In a time when we need wildness more than ever, it’s never been more threatened. One need look no further than the skulking figures of the right, elbowing and jostling each other for the opportunity to be commander and chief. Debates have become nothing more than four amateur comedians, dropping punchlines and waiting for the laughs that aren’t coming. But between the childish jokes of genitalia and chest thumping, they have declared war. Not on ISIS, hispanics, the middle class, or China. But on us. On the final fragments of American history.
The Party or Lincoln has become the Party of More. Blame it on Reagonomics, the Koch brothers, Ted Cruz’s jowls, it doesn’t really matter. Regulate a women’s body, regulate marriage, but God forbid that the steam rollers of industry should be slowed. Away with the EPA, usher in the era of fracking. What goes into the bank account matters more than what goes into our bodies. Away with the public lands, those worthless wastes of space, those dollar bills hanging from the branches, just waiting to be plucked.
“If you’ve seen one redwood, you’ve seen them.” Ronald Reagan said.
“If you’ve seen one hundred dollar bill, you’ve seen them all.” I say. “The only thing more foolish than trying to drink your money is trying to breath it.”
Herein lies the danger. Herein lies the tragedy. Ted Cruz has already tried to put an end to the miracle that is public lands—our national parks, our monuments, and wildlife preserves. America’s greatest gift to itself. It twists my stomach into knots. Take my healthcare but not the bay, not Denali, not the Arctic Refuge, these shrines to the world that made us. I’ve met several people who, on their deathbed, ran north. To Alaska. To see the land wild and free. Not to see oil wells or mining sites. But that seems to mean little. Give him a big enough eraser and he’ll wipe them all out. Those wastes of space. All those trees and bays and wolves and bears. Refuges and refugees, two concepts that fall on deaf ears. Give me your poor, your tired, your weak… nevermind, some oil subsides will do fine. Conservative and conservation, similar in spelling alone.
This is our own fault. Nature, wilderness, is mythic to some, a fairy tale to many. Something that may or may not exist somewhere beyond the city limits where the concrete may or may not end. An ideological Bigfoot. It’s somewhere our phone’s don’t work and wi-fi fades away. Many never see them. And we’ve lost all connection to how bad we need them.
Air? It comes from the air of course. Food? From the grocery store. Water? It comes from the tap. Trace the journey of these substances and you arrive at the same place. Soil growing food, trees producing the air and filtering our water. Forgetting that relationship is toxic. Ask the children of Flint, Michigan. Ask the families of Butte, Montana about the “pennies from hell.”
“Growth for the sake of growth is a cancerous madness,” wrote Edward Abbey.
Let us define mankind not by what we can extract and obtain, but by what we can leave alone. Let us not define ourselves by our consumption, but by our self control. Do we have the courage, the willpower to push ourselves away from the petroleum feast, to announce that we’re full? There are bigger things, more worldly things, and yes, more Godly things than maximizing profit on every square foot of land.
What if we stopped looking at the world like a factory and instead like a garden? A plot that must be nurtured, cared for, fed, and watered. Treated with the understanding that what we take out must be replaced. Minerals and matter must be returned to ensure that the carrots, potatoes, and lettuce of life return bigger, fresher, and tastier next year. Foolish is the farmer who doesn’t renew his soil with fertilizer, who stuffs his rows of lettuce tightly together, believing that the highest quantity planted will equal the maximum yield. Shame to the farmer who doesn’t let a field go fallow. Let the land rest, let it breath, let it be land for a year. And like us after a deep breath, it will work harder, the benefits in a year outweighing the one that was lost.
But the world doesn’t work like this. We can’t stand the thought of letting a portion go fallow. Of not maximizing our yield right now. Forget the future. The future is now isn’t it? The TV told me so. Those that see the world as a garden are shouted down. We’re labeled as extremists, alarmist, other harmful -ists, standing in the way of progress. Good old progress the shield of the conservative politician. But you’ll never hear a politician, pounding the lectern, demanding that he be allowed to frack the tar sands of Utah labeled extremist. He’s just living in the real world. A world where the economy can grow forever. Infinite growth, finite world. His birthright. If we’re not moving forward we must be going backward.
Will our offspring a century from now look back on us with admiration or disgust? Will we be revered like the minuteman or demonized like the slaveholder? The one’s that took a renewable world and saw it only for what it could do in that very moment. At least we made some money. But is that how we want to be remembered, is that what we want inscribed upon our gravestone?
Here lies the modern world. The bottom line looked good.
Surely even the most selfish cannot desire to be remembered like this. Let’s be remembered for our love, for our sacrifice, for our restraint. Let a tree be a tree. A refuge a refuge. A fishery a fishery.
“Any fool can destroy trees,” wrote John Muir. “For they cannot run away.”
To which I add, any fool can do something for profit. It takes a man of true character, true conviction, to see a resource, to see personal wealth, and leave it where it is, acknowledging that there are some fields that should always be fallow. We’ll survive without it. The farmers to follow will thank us.