Paul Andersen: Fair Game | AspenTimes.com

Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

My 19-year-old son Tait is a rare being. He is a young person who loves nature. He loves it more than Facebook or video games or texting. Nature is where he strives to be, and in nature, he thrives most. As his father, I witness daily that Tait is on the path to nature. This is no accident.

As a kind of appendage to me during his infancy, Tait had no choice but to experience wild and natural places. When we hiked, Tait rode in my backpack. When we biked, he rode in my bike trailer. When we skied, he was on the end of a tether in my hands.

Tait is an unusual member of an age group that is withdrawing from the source of its sustenance, a large demographic to which nature has become a distant and superficial backdrop to a virtual and commercialized world. This is a loss for us all because without a caring, nurturing, altruistic population, the natural, sustainable systems upon which we depend are imperiled. So are lessons of humility that nature so aptly teaches.

My feelings are strong on this because of a blurb I read in a recent Sierra Magazine: “‘The Senator,’ a beloved 3,500-year-old, 125-foot bald cypress in Florida’s Big Tree Park, was destroyed in a fire set by a woman smoking meth inside its hollow trunk. Authorities quote her as saying, ‘I can’t believe I burned down a tree older than Jesus.'”

When a towering tribute to living nature is incinerated by a flaming meth pipe, the dysfunctional relationship between people and nature becomes both tragic and outrageous. And it goes beyond meth addicts.

On April 6, USA Today reported: “Park Visitors Getting Grayer: Service fears disconnect with younger generation.” A study found that kids ages 8 to 18 spend an average 7.5 hours on digital media instead of connecting with the living world.

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A study in the “Journal of Personality and Social Psychology” found that “three times as many millennials (those born in the 1980s and ’90s) as baby boomers said they made no personal effort to help the environment.”

There are people cheering this disconnection because it gives traction to their agenda of privatizing parks and public lands for commercial profit. A population detached from its natural heritage would merely shrug at the turnover of natural wonders to entrepreneurs. Burning a tree older than Jesus becomes a mere footnote to the greater menace of an emerging electorate too addled by media to care about nature.

According to a new book, “2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years,” the trend toward megacities and unbridled resource extraction will make wild places fewer and competition for them greater.

“Don’t teach your children to love the wilderness,” concludes author Jorgen Randers. “By teaching children to love the untouched wilderness, you are teaching them to love what will be increasingly hard to find. Much better then to rear a new generation that find peace, calm and satisfaction in the bustling life of the megacity – with never-ending music piped into their ears.”

As dismaying as this sounds, the historic precedent exists. Two centuries ago, few could foresee the end of the frontier, the buffalo, the passenger pigeon. Did I do a disservice by connecting Tait to a deep affection for the natural world?

I console myself by reasoning that the path of humanity is difficult to plot – that forecasts are often wrong. Perhaps this dim prediction will push the culture in the opposite direction. Perhaps love of life, the “biophilia” Tait has learned, will lead us on the path back to our natural heritage.

Author Larry McMurtry at the beginning of “Lonesome Dove” writes: “All America lies at the end of the wilderness road, and our past is not a dead past, but still lives in us. Our forefathers had civilization inside themselves, the wild outside. We live in the civilization they created, but within us the wilderness still lingers. What they dreamed, we live, and what they lived, we dream.”

Wild nature should be more than a dream. It’s up to us parents to make sure that our children can awaken to natural wonder in the real world.

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