This Is the American Earth
by Nancy Newhall
To the primal wonders no road can ever lead;
they are not so won.
To know them you shall leave road and roof behind;
you shall go light and spare.
You shall win them yourself, in sweat, sun, laughter,
in dust and rain, with only a few companions.
You shall know the night — its space, its light, its music.
You shall see earth sink in darkness and the universe appear.
No roof shall shut you from the presence of the moon.
You shall see mountains rise in the transparent shadow before dawn.
You shall see — and feel! — first light, and hear a ripple in the stillness.
You shall enter the living shelter of the forest.
You shall walk where only the wind has walked before.
You shall know immensity,
and see continuing the primeval forces of the world.
You shall know not one small segment but the whole of life,
strange, miraculous, living, dying, changing.
You shall face immortal challenges; you shall dare, delighting,
to pit your skill, courage, and wisdom against colossal facts.
You shall live lifted up in light; you shall move among the clouds.
You shall see storms arise, and, drenched and deafened, shall exult in them.
You shall top a rise and behold creation.
And you shall need the tongues of angels to tell what you have seen.
*Text excerpted from This Is the American Earth by Ansel Adams and Nancy Newhall, © 1960 The Sierra Club.
Photo illustration by PiedType
Reprinted from Pied Type, Aug. 3, 2009
14 thoughts on “Earth Day 2014”
Big smile. What else to say? Cool. (Colorado – which fits the passage – and your post)
Since I first read it in the ’60s, this passage has been my favorite description of how I feel in and about the mountains. But I thought it was appropriate for Earth Day because we all need to have this kind of awe about the planet we live on. We must take care of it. It’s the only home we have, and it is a fragile, finite resource.
Newhall’s poem evokes for me the exploratory 1804-1806 journey of the Lewis and Clark expedition. They traveled the vast stretches of the unexplored West with canoes, rafts and pack animals. All that they saw was new to colonial ken, including rivers, mountains, deserts, new animals, and many different native tribes. But the travel and the living was not easy. For all its apparent perfection and balance, it was still a world ruled by the yet-to-be-understood law of natural selection. It was considered something of a miracle that only one member of the group died on the 16-month trip. How wondrous to think of the nights they had, alone, under the stars and the weather.
Mankind is the most destructive and dangerous animal the Earth has ever known, but also the only species capable of abstract thought and able to not just experience but apprehend the marvelous beauty and complexity of nature. It is a most amazing dichotomy.
That sort of makes it our responsibility to take care of the planet, doesn’t it? We’re the only species capable of doing so.
Yes, I agree, but I wish it were more straightforward. Our town, Joplin Missouri, had a ballot initiative last week to institute a recycling service and I, reluctantly, voted against it. (It failed by about 600 votes.) The problem was:
1. It would have required separate truck-pickups, thus potentially adding emissions.
2. It wouldn’t pay for itself and would cost each resident an addition to their trash bill of about $3.50/month.
3. There was a likelihood that the pick-up of recyclables (clean paper, glass and plastic) would only be made every two weeks and not weekly.
4. Joplin already has a recycling center, so those so-motivated can take their stuff themselves.
I didn’t think most people, having busy lives, would be disciplined enough to do it right, much less remember which week to put it out for pickup. Maybe someday, but this is a low-income area. As one example, a few years ago we had a trash-dumping incident in our neighborhood. A neighbor and I sorted through the stuff and found name and address. It went to court and a woman was found guilty – she lived in a rental and didn’t want to pay a trash bill, much less a recycling bill. Yes, I know it’s only one incident, but it’s an indicator.
There are many ways to improve the environment, including voting green (excluding the poorly-researched ethanol laws) and trying to leave a small footprint. But so far, there’s no shortage of landfill space around here.
Well, we can’t keeping filling landfills forever. Europe burns a lot of its trash in giant incinerators that harness and distribute trash-fueled power. They were forced into it because available landfills are filling up and more land is scarce. There’s a lesson in this for America. Our wide open spaces are not infinite.
There was already a recycling program in place when I moved here. A good one. No sorting involved (“single-stream recycling”) beyond recyclables go into the green can; everything else goes into the black can. Recyclables are picked up twice a month (1st and 3rd Wednesdays, along with the weekly trash) by the same kind of truck that picks up the normal trash. I think the only difference is where the trucks take their loads.
Twice-a-month pick-up is sufficient; I’ve never filled my can (we have those nice big covered bins with wheels that you roll out to the curb). I rarely forget because someone on the block will be putting out two cans to remind me. I don’t know if the service actually pays for itself or not. But even if it doesn’t, folks here don’t want Colorado turned into a sea of landfills. Joplin has a larger population than Thornton, so I’d think you could support it. The trash/recycling portion of my utility bill was $13.50 last month. Probably higher than yours, but everything is higher here.
Mind you, I’m not a rabid environmentalist. (Rabid would be a former sister-in-law who carefully washed, dried, folded, and stored her aluminum foil for reuse.) There’s so much more I could do if I tried. I still chuck batteries and lightbulbs into the trash, for Pete’s sake. But dropping metal, plastic, glass, and cardboard containers into a separate trash bin takes zero effort. The city makes it so easy, you’d feel guilty for not doing it. (There weren’t many takers back in OKC when they started out with separate sorting bins that had to be carried to the curb.)
Somehow the point came home to me one day when I was throwing out an old toilet seat. Yuck. Is there anything more unsightly and undesirable? And I thought of everyone doing that and of all the yucky toilet seats in landfills that will be there virtually forever. Along with everything else we throw out without a second thought. That stuff isn’t going away. It all has to go somewhere, and there won’t always be “someone else’s backyard” to dump it in.
You give me lots of food for thought, PT. I’m not a rabid enviornmentalist either, but you did induce some guilt in me. I looked up our trash bill – last month it came to $12.41. (It’s actually combined with the sewer charge, but that was the trash part.) The recycling would have added, as I said, about $3.50. I think it’s cheap, and if I thought it would work here, I’d have voted for it, but my objections still stand. The deplorable state of the ocean, as you mentioned to Alan G below, concerns me a lot more than the land fills. That’s where life started and if we don’t fix it, the dying of the seas could be the beginning of the end. The reefs are already dying and the search for flight 370 is another indicator of just how bad it is.
Yes, I was citing only the trash part of my city bill. Water is a helluva lot more and makes up the great majority of my bill. I’m glad I at least gave you something to think about. Of course, by voting it down, you’ll never know if it would have worked there or not. Had it not worked, it could always have been discontinued.
I think we certainly bear the responsibility to clean up this planet’s environmental mess, especially since a large portion of it can be specifically directed toward America as its cause and effect. I would say our real contributions as Americans began around 1930 and continues as we speak. That’s an 84 year span of destruction so it pretty much encompasses our lifetime, plus or minus perhaps a decade or so.
In fact, we (those who have lived in that time frame) have been the ones who have enjoyed “all” the perceived benefits from those things considered to have contributed to the current situation and the reality is, we will have little or nothing to do with the recovery, assuming such is even possible. I’m sure a great number of us try to deny the shame of our actions and leave that for others to bear, but we can deny all we want, history will record the truth regarding the matter.
There may well come a day within a couple hundred years from now when people will be talking of you and me and asking one another, “What were those idiots thinking”? Many of us may worry about lack of a personal legacy but no need, our generation has a group legacy policy. 😕
One need look no further than our huge ocean gyres that are filled with trash from all over the world. Some of that plastic might have started as a bag that blew away from a Colorado trash dump. One of those bottles may have floated downstream from the Great Lakes. But most of it was dumped there deliberately by people who just assumed the oceans are so huge that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t go away, people! It just goes someplace else.
The least expensive and most effective way to reduce environmental degradation is to reduce the number of humans competing for limited resources on our planet. Strong, sustained support of women’s rights to control reproduction would make earth healthy again. It’s not too late, but we’re getting periously close to the point of no return.
And until we have adequate education, especially in underdeveloped countries where they’ve no concept of or access to birth control, we won’t get adequate control over reproduction. It’s particularly discouraging in our “first world country” to see how many people still don’t get that and are actively working against it.
An absolutely beautiful way to honor the day! 🙂
Not exactly on target for Earth Day, but a reminder of what we have to lose …