Planting Seeds

Planting Seeds

Planting Seeds: Empowering our Children with Ways to Protect the Environment while Cultivating the Earth

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Out of Reach Environment

I have just read in Abbey's Road, "Why so many want to read about the world out-of-doors, when it's more interesting simply to go for a walk into the heart of it, I don't fully understand. I suppose it is because the natural world, as we call it, has already become remote, out of reach, mysterious, in the minds of urban and suburban Americans." It's remarkable how much my own thoughts have recently mirrored Edward Abbey's ponderings. Especially because of this class and its readings, notably The Abstract Wild by Jack Turner, I have been questioning my own involvement with the environment. I have been increasingly dissatisfied with my current academic and objective relationship with the environment, and have been craving even a small taste of some real, visceral exposure to nature. Sadly, I cannot help but concede that, as Abbey presupposes, the natural world has become something remote to me, an urban American.
I think about the environment a lot; but what if I am not thinking about it the right way? As an Environmental Policy major at Barnard College, my days are full of Biology lab reports, lectures on the carbon cycle, and discussions about the conflict between poverty and environmentally sustainable behavior, amongst other academic pursuits of environmental understanding. For a year, I have been a co-head of my college's environmental action group; and, although someone else has recently taken over leadership of the club, I continue to speak at least weekly to faculty, administrators, staff, and students about environmental issues on campus such as recycling, energy efficiency, and purchasing local and other sustainably-grown foods. Further, many of my friends and even my boyfriend are environmentally-oriented types, and so I often talk about earthy issues outside of the classroom and the meeting space.
But despite all this earth-friendly involvement, I feel extremely disconnected from the root of all my activities: the earth, itself. Today I incidentally looked up from the street to the sky for a moment, and felt a sudden shock at seeing the blue expanse, and the clouds. I think I forget that the sky exists, living in New York; and when snow falls it seems so strange to me, like such a natural rush of beauty couldn't possibly belong in the city, or be allowed there. There must be something wrong, mustn't there be, when I forget that the sky exists?
When I read the works of Abbey, or Taylor, or Annie Dillard, and I catch glimpses of their transformative experiences being outside I am intoxicated with envy and want to throw down my books and catch a bus for somewhere, anywhere with some wide open spaces. I long to go camping. I've been telling everyone that I really, really want to be an intern for some not-for-profit environmental organization this summer; really, this is a bald-faced lie. Really, I want to hike the long trail with my boyfriend, snuggle with him under the stars and surrounded by trees everynight, to have to shiver when it gets cold and to have no place, no walls within which to hide from the things "out there" that scare me, like cold and animals scurrying in the brush nearby.
I do believe, ultimately, that if I want to create positive environmental change I will have to work within the system, to be well-educated, to consider economics and science and the rhetoric of politicians (or Barnard administrators, as is the case for me now.) I think that to relinquish myself to live in some hut in the woods, enjoying nature, would be unhelpful and unwise. But I do suspect that I need more of a balance than I have between physical experience of nature and the more intellectual and beaurocratic relationship I now pursue.

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