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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Disappear

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Last summer I thru-hiked the Northville Placid Trail with my father. It was 133 miles of mud and mosquitoes, storm-ravaged bridges and swollen lakes. The trail only crossed four major roads (except for a several mile road walk at the end), and my dad and I could walk an entire day without seeing another soul. It was isolated wilderness at a local, accessible level, some of the loneliest forests you could experience on the carved up East Coast.

A 2016 study by the Wildlife Conservation Society predicted that there will be no globally significant wilderness in the next 50 years, and, in a separate study conducted by Peter Potapov, 20 countries will lose their large forests entirely within the next 60 years. The disappearance of wilderness has been happening for a while, debatably ever since industrialization and large-scale agriculture emerged. In the last 25 years alone, though, the Wildlife Conservation Society discovered that 10 percent of the world’s terrestrial wilderness had vanished, which is the equivalent of half of Australia disappearing.

The Adirondacks doesn’t count as “globally significant wilderness,” but when I read statistics and articles like the ones mentioned above, I have to find a way to relate to it personally, otherwise it feels too distant, too big, too easy to dismiss. It’s overwhelming to think that over 250 million people live in these vanishing forests, but when I remember my own time spent in the dappled sunlight, a beaver swimming in front of us as we lit up our backpacking stove for dinner, the crisis feels pertinent.

What does it mean for places to disappear?

I don’t remember when the woods I grew up in were thinned, trees torn down to make room for office buildings. One autumn the forest was thick, and then I left for college and the next time I looked out my best friend’s window I could see screaming light for the very first time. My friend said her mother cried when the trees were cut down.

I don’t look out that window anymore.

Vanishing places destroy our sense of permanence. Natural places encompass a type of forever that we don’t ascribe to humans. But they too can leave us. They too can break our hearts. And unlike fickle lovers, destroyed wilderness will never return. What is gone is gone and will not come again. The creek beds will stay dry despite our tears.

We often go into the wild to be lost and alone, to find something within ourselves that cowers in crowds and fluorescent lighting. And there’s a shapeless irony that we are losing places where we want to be lost, places we want to disappear inside of, as if moss and mud could swallow us whole.

What would it feel like to always be known, to never be able to vanish when your body cries for solitude?
What parts of humanity are we losing when we lose these vast and lonely places?
What are we really leaving behind?

 

 

In Their Own Words

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With over 2,500 acres, Mendon Ponds Park is the largest park in Monroe County. It’s only 25 minutes away from downtown Rochester, New York.

“One of the things I think that Rochester is lacking tremendously is a connection to the multitude of green spaces and natural gems in the bioregion that we have here. We have over twenty public parks that are all within fifteen, twenty minutes driving distance; we have the Adirondack Park, which is a state park that’s bigger than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined; we have the Finger Lakes region; and that’s just going outside of the Greater Rochester area. There are so many places to enjoy and so few people understand them.” —Lindsay Cray, Co-Founder and Executive Director of EarthWorks Institute

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Kids running wild, as they should, during one of EarthWorks’ summer programs. (Photo courtesy of EarthWorks Institute)

The quintessential American childhood is built upon exploration. We see it time and again in children’s literary classics, such as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Bridge to Terebithia, and the Little House on the Prairie series. More often than not, the freedom of exploration is linked with the outdoors. Even when the kids are housebound, they often find a way to circumvent their situation—say, via a secret garden or an enchanted wardrobe—and hidden, natural worlds once again are theirs to pursue. Nature is the most accessible landscape for—to borrow a line from Dumbledore—the flighty temptress adventure.

I don’t need to tell you that kids spend a lot of time in front of screens these days. If you haven’t witnessed it yourself, then you’ve definitely been bashed with a dozen or more headlines about it. Like the debate on artificial sweeteners or millennials choosing avocados over houses, screen time for children is a hot-button issue that never lacks in “news” coverage.

It’s something Lindsay Cray has noticed, too. Lindsay is the Co-Founder and Executive Director for EarthWorks Institute, a nonprofit that focuses on connecting residents in the Greater Rochester, New York, area with the world and community around them. Typically this is done through developing a closer connection with or a better understanding of the outdoors. Although EarthWorks offers classes for a variety of ages, its emphasis is on kids.

“Kids are lost,” Lindsay told me in a phone interview. “I’ve met children who literally don’t know how to climb trees, or don’t know how to cross a creek. And I’m not talking a raging river creek. I’m talking a creek that’s five or six feet wide with stones to step on. I’ve worked with children who have stopped dead in their tracks in front of a small body of water and looked at me like, ‘what do we do from here?’”

Before dedicating herself to outdoor education, Lindsay worked as a research scientist studying facets of the human condition, knowledge which influences her work today.

“We’re not as far away from our primitive ancestors as we like to think we are,” said Lindsay. “Doing things like climbing trees increases your balance and also helps you become good at math. Being outside and learning how to push your physical limits helps you to control your mental limits as well. Kids who are constantly dealing with sensory overload don’t understand how to process information and that information can either be schoolwork, or it can be social emotional learning, or it can be critical thinking skills. They’re losing that because they don’t physically challenge themselves in ways that are healthy.”

EarthWorks has many programs designed to get kids reacquainted with nature. They offer courses in tracking, foraging, primitive tools, zombie slugs, and even a Jedi-themed summer program where kids will learn “the true power of the FOREST AWAKENED.”

And the programs are working.

Lindsay says that the response from participants—both kids and adults—has been overwhelmingly positive: “A lot of people tell us that the work we’ve done with them or their children has changed their lives, that the children have become people that the parents didn’t even realize they could be, or that it’s brought them out of their shell. Kids beg to come back, especially for our forest school and our summer camp program.”

In 2016 alone, EarthWorks reached 2,180 participants. They conducted around 700 hours of programs, 620 of which were oriented at children.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would’ve been a very different story if Huck had been given an iPad in the beginning. Forget building a raft. He could have rented a kayak and booked Airbnbs along the way. But where’s the rip-roaring adventure in that?

We need adventure in our lives, especially the wilderness variety. As adventurer and indie vanlife god Chris McCandless once wrote, “I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong. To measure yourself at least once. To find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions.”

So let the kids run wild. A little bit of mud never hurt anybody.

(Interested in learning more about EarthWorks? Click here!)

In Their Own Words

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“We’ve been opposed to the PennEast Pipeline that’s bringing natural gas through here, but the problem is it’s almost impossible to fight. It’s an interstate pipeline and interstate pipelines are approved by a federal agency called the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It was set up in 2005 by a bunch of secret meetings that Dick Cheney ran at which only energy executives were at, no environmentalists. And they got Congress to pass this thing, FERC as it’s called, and it’s never turned down a pipeline. So it’s very hard to fight.” —Don Miles, Executive Committee member, Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club

Sierra Club, Lehigh Valley Group

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The Lehigh Valley Group of the Pennsylvania Chapter hosted a screening of “From the Ashes” at the Charles Brown Ice House in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

If you’re involved in the outdoors in any capacity, you’ve heard of the Sierra Club before. Headquartered in Oakland, California, and founded in 1892 by environmentalist and outdoorsman John Muir, the organization boasts three million supporters, making them the undisputed king of grassroots environmentalism.

I met with Executive Committee member of the Pennsylvania Chapter Don Miles after a screening of “From the Ashes,” a documentary about America’s coal industry. The film screening was busy, but not packed, and at 24, I was on the younger side of attendees.

The attendee demographic wasn’t surprising. I see far more of my peers at events like the Banff Mountain Film Festival tour than I do at environmentalism events. Who wants to hear about how U.S. coal plants are responsible for more than half of human-caused mercury emissions when you could watch Angel Collinson ski unbelievable lines in Alaska? Adventure trumps activism. Or so it seems.

So who is strapping on their Tevas and taking up the environmental banner (a sustainably produced banner, of course)?

Well, not the people who showed up to the public hearing on wind turbines in the Lehigh Valley region that Don attended.

“[There were] 300 people there. All screaming and yelling, and all full of misinformation,” said Don. One man stood up and expressed concern about the danger turbines posed to deer, bear, and mountain lions. Don informed him that the eastern cougar (mountain lion) has been extinct for nearly 70 years, the last one formally registered as killed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission in 1874. “There’s a certain sort of person who knows what they know and doesn’t want to hear any facts. And you can’t argue with them,” he told me.

When people do show up to public forums, Don pointed out that they’re not usually supporters: “My experience in practicing law for 40 years is the vast majority of people who show up to meetings are against what’s going on, not in favor of it. If people are in favor of something, they just think it’s going to happen. It’s the people that are against something that turn up.”

I’ve never been to a public forum before. Prior to 2017, I’d never called or emailed a government representative. But apathy is a luxury I can no longer afford. The cost of inaction is too high.

There are different degrees of activism, and any type of participation is helpful. But how do we motivate people to go from hashtags to public forums? How do we cultivate passion for things we so often take for granted? How do we make films about coal just as enticing, just as attention-grabbing as films about skiing?

I don’t have many answers. But this blog, for me, is a start.