Earth Day 2017: Keep it wild

Olympic National Park, National Park Service

Although Thomas Jefferson argued that no one generation has the right to encroach upon another generation’s freedom, the future’s right to know the freedom of wilderness is going fast. It need not go at all. A tragic loss could be prevented if only there could be broader understanding of this: that the resources of the earth do not exist just to be spent for the comfort, pleasure, or convenience of the generation or two who first learn how to spend them; that one of these is wilderness, wherein the flow of life, in its myriad forms, has gone on since the beginning of life, essentially uninterrupted by man and his technology; that this, wilderness, is worth saving for what it can mean to itself as part of the conservation ethic; that the saving is imperative to civilization and all mankind, whether or not all men yet know it. . . .

This is the American Earth epitomizes what the Sierra Club, since its founding in 1892 by John Muir, has been seeking on behalf of the nation’s scenic resources and needs to pursue harder in the times to come. The book is by far the most important work the club has published and the debt is enormous to Ansel Adams for his inspiration of the book, his photographs, and his guidance, and to Nancy Newhall for the organization of the book and the power of its text. It is a stirring book.

It needs to be stirring, stirring of love for the earth, of a suspicion that what man is capable of doing to the earth is not always what he ought to do, of a renewed hope for the wide spacious freedom that can remain in the midst of the American earth.

David Brower
Executive Director, Sierra Club   
Lupine Meadows, the Tetons
August 23, 1959        

The above is from the foreword of This Is the American Earth (The Sierra Club, 1960) by Ansel Adams and Nancy Newhall. Well into the book, lush with Adams photographs and Newhall’s lyrical text, is my all-time favorite passage about the wilderness experience. It describes what we must preserve for ourselves and future generations because, as Henry David Thoreau wrote, “In wildness is the preservation of the world”:

Excerpt from
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.

Yellowstone National Park, from National Park Service

 



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13 replies

  1. Seen across the span of evolution, the present era is at a critical juncture. Known as the Holocene and matching the rise of humans, it is now exhibiting the greatest loss of biodiversity since the Cretaceous–Tertiary (K–T) extinction event. The oceans are full of crap, the rain forests are being burned, the reefs are dying. Even Low Earth Orbit is full of junk. Happy Earth Day.

    Damn. And this was the year I was going to be less cynical. Rats.

  2. Why if as ‘ Thomas Jefferson argued that no one generation has the right to encroach upon another generation’s freedom’ does the American Constitution not change with the times?
    Obviously he was wise enough to see it. the original constitution is not only encroaching on the current generation, but has encroached on every generation since 4th July 1826 when he died.
    America appears to be governed by that very old, outdated, constitution.

    • The Constitution does change with the times — every time it’s amended and every time the Supreme Court hands down a decision. Wisely, it was not designed to be easily changed. I think the problems today lie not so much with the Constitution itself as with partisan politics and monied special interest groups. (There were no political parties when the Constitution was written.)

      In what way do you think the Constitution has “encroached” on every generation since 1826?

      • It always appears to me that the citizens of the United States want to live by the Constitution, and that it controls so much of their lives. I know of no other country whose people put such great store by such a thing, then again I don’t know of any other country that has such a thing as the US has. It sometimes reminds me much of the Magna Carta, we English like to fool ourselves with that from time to time.
        I follow the NY Times daily and the word Constitution is seemingly forever appearing. It’s like some magical thing which solves all problems.

        • It doesn’t solve all problems (we’re expected to do that). It sets up basic principles upon which our laws and government are to be based. Truth, honesty, justice, fairness, liberty, our bicameral form of government, etc. You know, the sort of things don’t go out of style or become archaic or out-dated.

  3. My favorite odd sight on Earth Day this year? Mom and middle school girl (both wearing save the environment type tee shirts) get in a car, and as they pull out of the parking lot after an Earth Day event, she kid tosses a large sonic cup and a chunk of paper out the car window.
    Even before Earth Day existed, schools taught “don’t litter” and police men fined for littering. Maybe we need to go back and start at a more simple level of everyday awareness of what damages the earth
    There seems to be more marching and wringing of hands than ever about the environment, but less concern about simple things like escaping plastic bags and such.
    When did it change? Selfies and marches more fun to post on FB so everyone can see how concerned a person is…despite their poor understanding about how protecting nature and the environment really involves every day – every minute – every action.
    Oh, maybe it’s just me.

    • Oh no, it’s not just you. Like all the other things we want and expect from responsible adults, concern about the environment must be taught to our children from an early age. And we adults must set the example. My grandkids would probably lose their screens for months if they were caught throwing trash out the car window. My son verges on road rage when he sees anyone flip a cigarette out the window. It’s littering and a source of wildfires. And kids around here who get trash duty learn a lot about recycling.

      I think there’s more marching because more and more people are finally realizing what we’re doing to the planet, and that there is no Planet B. And Trump seems determined to roll back much of the progress we have made.

      I must say it’s getting very depressing thinking about the world and the society that my grandkids will be dealing with.

      • We are in marching overload. It’s losing all importance or effect.
        Marching is the modern social event – and looks good on FB and resume – conversation starters.
        Time better spent picking up trash, working with kids, cleaning/building trails and actually doing something…but not as much fun, and you can’t carry Starbucks or wear cute shoes.
        Tossed cigarettes are deadly to birds and animals and disgusting to accidentally step on at the beach. Go ahead and smoke if you want, but discard appropriately.
        Actually I think more people were concerned about littering and such back when they had the commercial of the old Native American chief with a tear in his eye – and Smokey Bear was cool. (and people who set fires, tore up parks were scorned as ignorant, irresponsible, and not smart enough to be part of society…).
        FB, Youtube and social media has spawned those who delights in showing off vandalism in park, harming animals, destroying natural areas on motorbikes/motorized vehicles – even Boy Scout leaders were films toppling stacked rocks in a park. When/why did it all reverse?
        How to counteract? Unless the general public gets it’s act together, nothing else matters – because there will be nothing.
        People make the difference…maybe different people now? Those who live all their lives indoors will never get it. If a child is not taken into nature to explore and wonder from ages 2-8 yrs, there may be no chance of them every understanding the connection between humans and nature/environment.
        Sighing along with you and feel like paddling upstream and losing

        • I credit my appreciation of the outdoors to my dad, who showed it to me and shared it with me and my siblings from as young an age as I can remember. Future generations will be no better or worse than they are taught to be. They won’t grow up loving and appreciating things they’ve never experienced. And of course if those things no longer exist …

          I feel exactly like the Indian with the tear.

"Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance." ~ Plato

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