Wednesday, December 02, 2015

This is Why

In something that is strange to me--because I can't understand why it's even posed--people often ask me why I spend so much time going to see wilderness, hiking mountains, camping, backpacking, and kayaking rivers.

So...this is why:

The Earth as we have known it, as it was when She gave birth to us, is dying. We are rapidly killing off the ecosystems from which we came, and on which all life on Earth depends. Humans despoil everything they covet. Forests are felled. Rivers are dammed and diverted. Mountains are carved down, valleys filled in, aquifers poisoned. The animals who are our companions are slaughtered and eaten, or killed and stripped of their skins, or merely murdered for sport. There are people who would shoot dead the last rhinoceros just so they can consume its horn; or kill the final tiger to eat its bones.

For most of my life--for I am a reader--I have known that at some point humans would finish devouring the Earth. After all, we gnaw away at the very crust of the planet and grind mountains into toxic heaps to get at what makes a tiny few of us wealthy. But now, in my old age, I realize that I am watching the extinction of entire ecosystems before my own mortal coil is wound down. I may actually live to see the last tigers go, and witness the final days of the last elephant.

This is why I go into the wilderness. I want to see these places now, while they still--even if only vaguely--resemble the state they were in before we crushed them beneath our heels.

A few years ago I set out to witness the virgin groves of giant hemlock trees in our southern forests. Because I knew that an invasive pest was consuming them and that our government would not do anything to stop it. So much more politically expedient to buy billion-dollar weapons than to preserve forests. And I was right. Those forests are all dead, now. Those hemlocks are ghostly trunks of bleaching wood, no longer green, no more to shelter animals who once lived among their branches.

The only thing that gives me any reason to feel positive about what we are doing is that I know that we are also not immune to extinction. Only those with the utmost hubris deny it (although they are many). But as we feast on our own home to make a dollar we will discover that we are going to go down with the ship into which we fired so many holes.

And when we are gone, the things we leave in our wake will evolve. They will spread out and radiate and refill those ecological niches that we left bare. Evolution will do its job. Given time, a rat can become a tiger. Given tens of thousands of years, a pigeon can become an eagle. Common guppies will turn into sharks. Deer, or something like deer will one day roam the places we had spoiled.

As for us...we'll be gone forever. We had our chance and we wrecked it. No trips to Mars. No colonies in space. No brotherhood of all.

But there will be peace.

Once mountains in West Virginia. Now a toxic wasteland.

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