It’s too easy to think we’re it, we homo sapiens. The wise, rational ones.
Which is why I hunger to be in nature as often as possible. Only out there, walking, canoeing, kayaking, riding, on my bike, do I quickly and indelibly remember we’re just one of millions of species inhabiting our shared blue ball of Earth.
I was lucky enough, in my late 20s, to take two safaris in East Africa, one in Tanzania and one in Kenya. I had never before fully understood how poorly equipped the human body is for some habitats — without the necessary protection of camouflaging colors or fur or feathers, scales, thorns or poisoned stingers.
The Equatorial sun was brilliant and harsh; I once lay directly beneath a large fallen tree trunk, desperate for the tiniest sliver of shade. Insects whirred and bit. The water was filled with all sorts of dangerous things that could burrow into our flesh or bloodstream.
The landscape was full of large, silent stalkers — how would we ever hear the lion before he arrived at our tent door? In the mornings, we opened it to discover a pile of elephant dung the size of an 18-wheeler tire. Right beside our tent.
It was a life-changing experience to be reminded how fragile and vulnerable we really are. That we are but one piece of a large ecosystem, and often its most disrespectful and destructive.
From an interesting and smart essay in today’s New York Times:
So, the conundrum: More than ever, an urban nation plagued by obesity, sloth and a surfeit of digital entertainment should encourage people to experience the wild — but does that mean nature has to be tame and lawyer-vetted?
My experience, purely anecdotal, is that the more rangers try to bring the nanny state to public lands, the more careless, and dependent, people become. There will always be steep cliffs, deep water, and ornery and unpredictable animals in that messy part of the national habitat not crossed by climate-controlled malls and processed-food emporiums. If people expect a grizzly bear to be benign, or think a glacier is just another variant of a theme park slide, it’s not the fault of the government when something goes fatally wrong.
This year, Yosemite is experiencing a surge of visitors — 730,000 in July, a record for a single month, they say…
“Many of these people aren’t used to nature,” said Kari Cobb, a Yosemite park ranger. “They don’t fully understand it. We’ve got more than 800 trails and 3,000-foot cliffs in this park. You can’t put guardrails around the whole thing.”
On this week’s bike ride, a cardinal flashed before my eyes. A deer and her fawn ambled across the trail in front of me. Hawks and eagles soared overhead.
As I walked the bike up a hill, I saw a skeleton flattened in the wet grass. A deer.
Our suburban town, from which I can see the glittering towers of Manhattan 25 miles south like Oz, is filled with wildlife: raccoons, deer, crows, wild turkeys, groundhogs, skunks, rabbits.
I love hanging out in their neighborhood, whizzing through their world.
I wonder what they think of us.
When and where do you most enjoy being outdoors?