Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
November 13, 2009
As the old saying goes, “the Indians lived in harmony with nature,” which conjures up all sorts of images. If one thinks that through for a moment, it becomes abundantly clear there aren’t enough words in the English language to adequately explain just exactly what that simple adage means.
In music, there is a certain fondness for harmony, even though most of us may not know the intricacies of what that connotes. Some scientists within our community may say that mankind’s history with nature has been most inharmonious and it is only our scientific and technological advances against the ravages of nature that give us the ability to live harmoniously with her. Buddhists and other spiritualists in our midst think we ought to pay attention to our own harmony in relationship to the group, or otherwise we’ll live in disharmony.
As humans, perhaps our biggest downfall is that which we consider to be our strongest advantage (other than the opposable thumb), i.e., that of self-actualization, an arrogant sentience that confirms our suspicion that we are the “supreme” beings on earth. With an attitude like that, no wonder “harmony” is an anachronistic and discordant word in our technologically-endowed world.
We’re too engrossed in our day-to-day existence to understand what triggers the sudden stampede of horses, running and bucking with immeasurable exuberance through a field of green, their mirth almost made palpable by the curve of their tails in the air. Or, what stimulates a herd of elk, plodding along in their usual jog, to suddenly take on a strident gallop, topping red-rock ridges and roaring down precipitous slopes, zigging and zagging like crazed slalom skiers headed to an appointment with the devil?
Our sometimes dangerous self-awareness allows us to believe we are not a part of nature, per se, but have somehow been appointed “overseer” of the natural world. This is a convenient obfuscation that seduces us into avoiding responsibility for our role in the natural realm.
A cow elk lies not too far off the trail, giving birth to a calf, when suddenly, halfway through the miracle, a couple of dirt bikes howl past. Already stressed by the birth, this could be a fatal encounter for the elk and/or her calf, but since the riders didn’t see her (or if they did, she was only one of many), what’s the big deal? Every year, as the trails through the forest become more like highways, a few more wild births get disrupted, or the loud roar makes the nursing of the babies more difficult, and before long, the elk are forced to find new calving grounds, if they can.
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Many of our forays into the “wildness” are marked by small infractions – a piece of litter here, an errant off-highway vehicle there, someone cutting the corner on a trail, a mountain biker locking his brakes down the steeps instead of walking; taken individually, these actions don’t generally create havoc.
But as our population grows, and more people take to the hills with an inflated sense of what “public lands” means (and failing to recognize that “rights” and “responsibilities” are inseparable), these small violations of common sense compound themselves, until we begin to exponentially deteriorate the very wilderness we once believed to be pristine. The incremental degradation is almost unnoticeable, but the cumulative effect can be devastating.
The ongoing public conversation about the Hidden Gems Wilderness campaign doesn’t consist of me against you, or mountain bikes against horses, or this group against that. It’s about us against ourselves.
If we don’t create more Wilderness now, we will be robbing ourselves of the benevolence once thought to be part of the human psyche and children yet unborn will be the victims of our ignorance.