Rush: A lament for wilderness
Special to the Daily
Last night we were sharing a quiet moment, drinking tea before we settled down for the night when we heard the sharp, disconsonant yips of coyotes. I opened up the back door and listened for a while, wearing a smile as cold air rushed over my feet and into the house.
They were no more than three but so skilled at sounding like 20 as they plaintively took roll with off-key chortles and high-pitched whines, an occasional wolf-like howl from time to time that can set your blood racing (if you are wild) or scare you (if you domesticated).
We are on the edge of a frontier, this place where we’ve built our home. Yesterday, even, we watched a large, four-point graze nonchalantly as the dogs took pot-shots at him, raising his head every once and a while to cast a crooked eye at the annoying mutts that poop in our yard. In January, we will awake in the middle of sleep to listen to elk bugle and cry as the winter mist rolls patiently along the grass by our house. A small herd, 300-strong, proud in their transcendence of time and modernity.
All of these things I hold dear, from the rustling vole underfoot to the soaring red-tail that screams over our heads as my son watches in awe. They are the reason I moved here, and the reason we stay. They are the intangibles that make this place (my home, my neighborhood, this region) great. And to say we take it for granted is an understatement.
Every wild thing I honor is now seemingly under assault. We have opened to a new chapter in America’s disdain for the untamed world. I clench my teeth when I hear of another roadless area opened to roads, another pristine wilderness dismantled for logging, another wildlife preserve trampled for oil and minerals. States argue for the right to sell public lands. A frail, bloated sociopath dictates the further dismantling of our nation’s pride and his sycophantic followers unthinkingly cry: “Onward, greatness!”
In our own town, we plow over the hayfields that the elk, deer, and coyote have called range for generations, and before that eons, to make way for economic progress. We talk about a strong stock market as if we should be grateful that the billionaires are thriving, that by hoarding every available cent and not paying into the public trust they are somehow an embodiment of the American ideal. God bless them all. But, we are killing the goose and we will rue the day we can no longer stand in the warmth of the golden egg.
In the new America, everyone has the unassailable right to semi-automatic weapons, the pursuit of ignorance, the languor of morbid obesity, to ride ATVs in national parks, call people names without risking a punch in the nose, threaten journalists, build walls in a desert, disregard critical thought and scientific method, and act as if God only cares about money and white people.
Yet, we have failed to constitute other rights, more sustainable and fundamental rights: the right to fall asleep under the stars without the lights from the city obscuring them. The right to watch the coyote sniff out prairie dogs without some good-ol-boy shooting him with a pellet gun for kicks. The right to listen to the rush of snowfall on a winter night as heavy hooves crunch through the frozen prairie. The right to walk through the wilderness without the mindless drone of ATVs and motorcycles disrupting and displacing, not me, but the things that have been here longer than me.
I am sad, mostly, I guess. When I was young, and a Boy Scout, we understood with fervor and allegiance that the land was sacred, that polluters were criminals and that some of it must be set aside and protected so that our sons, and our son’s daughters, could sit at campfires and stare at the stars surrounded by silence. In creeps a sense of despair and fatalism, and I recall a quote from Aldo Leopold, who once shot a wolf and regretted it for his remaining years: “I am glad I will not be young in a future without wilderness.”