Government? Closed. Parks? Open.

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People taking pictures of things at a busy national park (I prefer to photograph the people taking photographs, obviously)

Reading the news is a small daily horror. We are currently in the longest government shutdown of the modern era, and people and places are suffering. The institutions we have built this country upon are failing us.

The national parks are staying open despite being understaffed and unable to handle the influx of visitors. Restroom facilities are closed. Trash is no longer being picked up. Landscapes are being damaged, sometimes irreparably so.

I’ll save you the trouble of digging through the news dumpster yourself:

We can blame the shutdown. We can blame the lack of money and resources that protect our parks. We can blame troublemakers and rule breakers.

But the root is us. Thoughtless, hurtful humans. Because it’s not one person causing all of this, not two, not a handful, not a couple “bad seeds.” We, the collective, are the problem.

Natalie Diaz tweeted the following in regard to the destruction at Joshua Tree National Park:

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I could make this post a philosophical musing on human nature and destruction and how we love to play god for the brief eclipse of power. I could cite scientific studies (hello, Stanford Prison Experiment). I could quote Shakespeare. But none of that is helpful.

See, what bothers me about news is that very few outlets tell me what to do about any of this. They inform me of all the bad things happening but don’t give me ways to help fix them. And for me that’s frustrating. I’m a doer. I believe firmly in my own agency and my ability to affect the world. I believe that change is brought about by people, and that I can be a source of power if only I do and act and try.

So I do. And I act. And I try.

This is me trying. This right here. This small, sparrow-boned post.

Want to help our parks? Here are some things you can do:

  1. Don’t go. Even if you promise not to litter or take a dump, human traffic is still a problem. Please don’t visit the national parks right now.
  2. Educate yourself on the Leave No Trace principles. There are seven of them. Learn how to best minimize your footprint in our parks–both national and local–so that when you visit in the future, you will know how to respect the surrounding wilderness.
  3. Donate. Money is helpful and necessary. Small local organizations are stepping in right now to protect our parks. Support them. Yosemite is one of my favorite national parks and through some research (AKA a recommendation from Beth Rodden, a Yosemite resident and pro-climber, on Instagram), I learned that Ken Yager and the Yosemite Climbing Association are doing a lot to help the park, especially with the current trash overload. They have a donation page!
  4. Write thank-you letters to park staff. Kind words are always welcome.
  5. Get involved with your local conservancy or park. Education is one of the best ways to develop an appreciation and understanding of nature. Will it help immediately? No. But change doesn’t happen overnight and the American wilderness faces a long, globally-warmed road ahead; it needs all the supporters it can.

What the parks need right now and in the future are kind, compassionate, thoughtful human beings who care about the people and the world around them. Because even if there isn’t someone there to tell us what to do, even if we are able to run free and wild with sunsets in our eyes, we need to do the right thing. For the planet we live on. For our own fragile humanity.

There’s no better time to start than now.

(Do you, dear reader, have other suggestions? How can people help our parks and wilderness? What cool, inspiring things have you done or heard about in this vein? Let me know!)

The Lorax: 2018 Edition

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On the side of the world where buffaloes once roamed and black and sticky is the sad ocean foam and nothing ever grows from the infertile loam…is the Street of the Lifted Lorax.

What was the Lorax? And why was it there? And why was it lifted and taken somewhere from the side of the world where buffaloes once roamed?

The old Once-ler stills lives here. Ask him. Ask him by phone.

Ask him about the time, the time after land lines, when water was flowing and ziparelles were growing and legislatures knowing that the land needed us. Yes, needed us, the smallest of the small, the biggest of the big, the creatures that could shape the world like a twig.

Ask him about the time when the land needed us.

You do it. You dial, and it rings and ding-zip-a-lings, and he answers with a cough and a wheeze-wig-a-zing.

You ask him about the time when the land needed us.

“It all started way back…such a long, long time back…Way back in the days when the Colorado still flowed and mountains were still snow-capped and lawns were still mowed, and the song of the Greater Sage Grouse rang out in space, that we all lived and prospered in this glorious place.

It wasn’t perfect no, not even close. Temperatures were rising; we were beginning to roast! But on this side of the world, in the Half Dome cliffs and Everglade moats, the land was better off, better off than most.

There were black bears and brown bears and white bears as well. Wolves and bobcats and a rapper named Pharrell.

They all needed us. The black bears and brown bears and white bears as well. The wolves and bobcats (not sure about Pharrell…). The oceans and the clouds and brown fragile soil, they all needed us as stewards, to be protective and loyal.

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“But then things changed,” said the Once-ler, “new people were elected to office. Pro-business, pro-money, pro-laws as weak as boneless raw fish.

Government websites with the words ‘climate change’? That surely won’t do. So they deleted and erased, knowing well no one could sue.

But words were not enough. Actions meant more! They needed to do to even out the score.

So away went NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System. Data’s not needed. No one at the top cared how the planet was treated (as long as the murk-fested political swamps weren’t weeded).

They cut and they slashed, they repealed and they revoked. They loosened regulations on air pollution no matter who choked.

The air is fine! They exclaimed, in their crisp clean suits, walking down air-conditioned hallways with their new Fengvenchy boots. This is just how it is; business must come first. We’re doing it for you! The people! They cried, as they slipped money into their purse.

But they weren’t done yet, oh no, their work was never done. Never done until oil and big business thoroughly won.

Endangered Species Act? Really? The animals can fend for themselves. So they rollbacked the plan, adding fur to their shelves.

The wolves sighed all as one. They howled at the moon. They huffed and they puffed and they cursed that big goon, the one who marched to the beat of his own tune, the one who cared for nothing except his own silver spoon.

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Tracking methane emissions was a ‘record-keeping nightmare,’ so they reformed the policy to make it more ‘fair.’ Emit more! Pay less! This is how government works. Being friends with a Congressman sure has its perks.

Public lands were a tangled web, a new issue altogether. There was battle after battle and yet still more to weather. Grand Staircase-Escalante was shrunk more than 46 percent, and the Indigenous at Bears Ears asked where was their rent? Because it was their land first, but we seem to have forgotten. So we claim it and then sell it with deals just as rotten.

As rotten as what? A tomato? A fish? As rotten as an authentic, preserved Thanksgiving dish? Give the land back to us, or protect it, the Indigenous plead. But we give in to nothing and no one, except our own need. (It’s not compassion that motivates government, not empathy, but greed.)

The Migratory Bird Act had been in place for one-hundred years. It’d survived twenty administrations (c’mon, let’s hear the cheers). But stop! No more. It must be revised. Bird deaths because of industry? Them we won’t chastise.

Car emissions? Who cares? Let them run wild. Research about mines on local health? Don’t add to the list you’ve compiled.

We’re about money, you see, saving and earning, and what good is public land, endangered species, if there’s not a profit turning?”

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“But what about the Lorax?” you interrupt. “Isn’t this story about him?” The Once-ler stops and looks at you with a sad, feeble grin.

“The Lorax, you ask? Why, he’s gone long ago. His part is done. Seuss ended his story in nineteen-seventy-one. I’m sorry to say that things have not gotten better. Subtleties are no use these days, all they do is fetter.

What I’m saying is this: We’ve already waited too long. But it’s not over yet, and we need to be strong.

There are the brown bears and black bears and white bears as well. There are termites and butterflies and Howie Mandel. The arctic needs us, and forests too, more biomes than I can tell. But I can see it in your eyes—the determination, the energy—that we are going to do well.

That we will fight and protect, conserve and sustain, that we will do all we can for future generations so that all this remains.”

And with that the Once-ler hung up the phone—what more could he say? The earth needed you, it needs you today.

To stay alert, to stay informed, to do your very best, because the land and the creatures and all the rest, they need you to do, to act, to invest. To invest in our future, to care beyond yourself, because the best things in the world can’t be bought on a shelf.

You’ll do great, I know you will, there are a lot of strong people out there. To help you, to guide you, to show you how to care. So go now, take action, there’s a lot left to do, the earth needs your help, it’s counting on you.

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Information sourced from https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/03/how-trump-is-changing-science-environment/

Post inspired by The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, first published in 1971 by Random House.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Blossoms From Anger

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“The children of the woods play wild, secret games.” –Gillian Flynn. My campers playing games in the fields of Ohio.

When I was eleven, I wrote a strongly worded email to General Mills arguing that gymnast Paul Hamm should be on a Wheaties box. I didn’t regularly eat Wheaties and I didn’t do gymnastics, but I thought that the red-headed gymnast was adorable and talented and totally deserved to be smiling up at frazzled grocery store shoppers who were confused about what aisle the granola had been moved to. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t an issue I cared much about (sorry, General Mills, for the deception), nor did it matter that Paul’s hair would’ve contrasted poorly against the orange Wheaties box (Shadowbox it with white? Photoshop a stylish hat on?). People online convinced me to take up the cause, and I was enamored enough with the tiny ginger man that I did.

The next time I wrote a protest email to a person or organization was thirteen years later. The White House had changed hands, and the Internet had erupted into a firestorm of white hot anger. I read the discourse, I felt the heat of the flames, and I joined the fight. And, once again, it was the People of the Internet who stirred me into action.

It was different this time. At eleven, I had felt the feeble force of injustice at an athletic slight, but none of it was anger. Anger has never been an emotion I’ve worn well. I cry (often) and brood (probably more often) and overthink (hence the parenthesis), but I don’t rage.

But this time, at 24 years old, the echoes of outrage reverberated within me. I composed letters and emails, even faxes, to my local representatives. I hosted postcard parties to speak out in quantity. I left voicemails. Sure, Paul Hamm may have been denied the coveted position as the poster boy of Wheaties because he may or may not have fairly won the gold all-around medal (I’m sure this controversy keeps you up at night too), but this was injustice on an unfathomably large scale. I was angry about health care. I was angry about the slackening environmental regulations. I was angry about the corruption and the greed and the callous disregard for humanity.

It is July 28, 2018. It’s been over a year since I’ve contacted a local representative. In fact, I forgot to register in time for an absentee ballot for the New York primaries this past spring. Bouncing from place to place, it is harder to stay in touch with the national discourse these days. WiFi is infrequent. I spend my days out in the sunlight, helping kids into kayaks. I spend less time reading the news.

And the questions I’ve been asking myself lately revolve around my fading anger. Do I need to rekindle it? And if so, how and for whom? On what scale should I be fighting—for my country, for my hometown, for the trees I now call neighbors? In the time that I have, what’s the best way to make a difference?

The problem is I want to do it all. I want to learn more about proposed legislation for ATV use in the Adirondacks. I want to rage against the inadequate assistance in Puerto Rico and our complicity in our own quiet tragedy. I want to become a rafting guide in Arizona, and teach at a camp in upstate New York, and live in a cabin in a sun-stained patch of woods with mismatched mugs and towering bookshelves and my imported Lord of the Rings posters. I want it all.

Some days I feel like I’m doing enough. I send thank you letters to authors who’ve impacted me, and I get a message back, a thank you for a thank you. Kids gift me smiles and laughter. Parents thank me for my time and efforts, my willingness to live out of a tent for the summer so that they can enjoy camp for a week. And maybe the smallness of my efforts are OK. Maybe I’m impacting more lives by teaching kids how to shoot a bow and arrow than I ever did with my emails and letters. Maybe it’s passion, not anger, that matters more.