When I was a younger man I spent six weeks backpacking in the Dark Canyon Wilderness Area, in the southeast corner of Utah.
I grew very intimate with Dark Canyon during the 40 days I spent exploring it. By the end of my journey l thought of it as its own being, with its own spirit. I had spent 40 days feeling its spirit and energy interacting with my spirit and energy.
I can picture with great detail the spot where I watched a spider build its web. I remember standing at the base of the Sundance Trail and marveling at how absolutely silent the world was. I have hundreds of such memories that I share only with Dark Canyon.
Dark Canyon is a beautiful temple. And hidden inside it I found hundreds more smaller temples. Some were tucked in the back of hidden grottos, some were right out in plain view. Dark Canyon itself is nestled inside an even larger temple, that in December of 2016 President Barack Obama designated as Bear’s Ears National Monument, which I hailed as a great, forward-thinking, conscientious move that would benefit mankind – and many other beings who call the area home – for centuries to come.
The little temples I discovered inside Dark Canyon are all beautiful, wonderful little places and I would greatly miss them if I returned there and found an oil platform, or tailings from a uranium mine, sitting there instead of a coyote den, instead of the spring from which hundreds of beings drank. So when I heard that President Trump had reduced the size of Bears Ears National Monument, and fractured it into pieces, seemingly with the intent to open it up to extractive industries, I was deeply heartbroken.
Because Americans, and the rest of the world, need large unfractured tracts of wild land. Where bears, mountain lions, butterflies and elk still have room to roam, unpestered and unmolested.
Big, wild spaces – such as Bear’s Ears or Grand Staircase-Escalante – hold a sacred, valuable energy that I believe is necessary for the well-being of the American individual as well as Americans collectively, and they’re absolutely essential to the well-being of the American spirit; and the future greatness of America. I believe that as America’s wild places are diminished the energy and wild spirit that makes America such an amazing place to live is diminished with it.
We return to nature for the same reason that Antaeus returned to Mother Earth, for a renewal of strength by contact.
It’s really not so difficult to convey what this energy feels like. It’s the same feeling you get when you return home.
Let me compare nature, wilderness and our wild, open spaces to a great book. Each new quarter-acre housing lot that’s added to a suburb along the edge of the Everglades, or Missoula, or Moab is like erasing a word, a line or block of text from this great book. And what’s the big deal with that? It’s just a single word from a single page.
The problem is, we know, that all across America – and all around the world – everyone is taking up the Great Eraser to erase just one or two words from the book until entire paragraphs, and chapters and even entire books have been erased. And as each generation multiplies the great erasure occurs at an exponential rate.
I’m as guilty as anyone else. My wife and I erased a once-wild quarter acre lot from an Arizona mesa top and put our house on it.
Our wild places are being erased on two fronts. There is the actual acreage on which we’re building our homes and shops and businesses and then there’s the land from which we glean the materials with which to feed the sprawl.
Vast acres of trees are cut down to provide the materials to build our homes, make our books, our newspapers, our copy machine paper. We’re digging pits for copper, coal, iron, diamonds and then spoil even more land (and often nearby streams) with their tailings. Erase a little acreage from the quarry that provides the gravel for your cement footers. Another quarry for the lime. A factory to build your car, a mine for the steel, another factory to refine the steel, an oil field to provide the oil for your car, another factory to refine the oil. We plow once-wild land to grow the food and cotton necessary to feed and clothe our burgeoning population and build a grocery store from which to sell it to you. Et cetera ad infinitum.
Places like Bear’s Ears, like Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, are unique, which makes them even more special and important. Sticking with my book analogy, they’re like a one-of-a-kind book, but it’s here where my analogy breaks down, because if it was a book, we could make copies of it. But we can’t reproduce a Bears Ears. We can’t reproduce a Grand Staircase-Escalante. But we can preserve it. We can care for it, respect it, preserve it and pass it on to future generations who too will find joy and fulfillment from it.
To reduce Bear’s Ears or Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments is like finding the lost works of Shakespeare and rather than sharing them with the world, selling it to a rich corporation. Or in this case, selling it to the corporation that donated the most money to your campaign fund, and letting them do with it as they please.
Giving our wild lands over to corporations is akin to selling the last remaining copy of Shakespeare to an illiterate troll who has no appreciation for the treasure in its possession, who rips out its pages to use as fire starter.
There is only one Bear’s Ears. There is only one Grand Staircase-Escalante. We must preserve them – and the magic that they hold inside them – for future generations. As our population grows and we continue to build on top of once wild land, we will need big wild places more than ever.
If we want the preserve the earth’s full story for future generations we must preserve our open spaces. We need ponderosas, junipers, sagebrush, wildflowers, and butterflies. We need bears and mountain lions and skunks. For every wild plant or animal we erase from the earth we tear a page from the earth’s great book. When a species is erased from our rare planet we remove an entire book from the earth’s amazing library.
When we reach the point where America’s once-wild spaces have been reduced to a size too small it can no longer support all of earth’s amazing life forms then we’ve really lost something valuable and special. When the animals leave, or die, what we have left are page upon page of blank empty pages that were once filled with the most amazing story that’s ever existed.
Home is important. There is nothing more important, or sacred than home. I love my home. You love your home. I just want to live in a world where polar bears, sloths, Monarch butterflies, elephants – and every other species – has room for a home of their own.