Sunday, June 23, 2013

Homesickness, Growth, Anthropocentrism and National Parks

An unexpected late June, nearly unheard of, rainstorm has canceled the remainder of this camping trip my friend and I are on. Yet another weather oddity that is a precursor of Climate Change. We had planned on spending a few days camping in Lassen National Park but neither one of us feels like sitting in a tent in the rain, feeling miserable, when we don't have to. At our age, misery should be a choice.

And so we had to change the itinerary of the trip. Again. Where to go? We found a cheap hotel in South Lake Tahoe and traveled to this town that has grown so much over the last twenty years. South Lake Tahoe has a Staples! McDonald's! God forbid!

We got here in time to walk through the casinos. I had a bloody mary and lost ten bucks on video poker. The bartender comp'd my drink, so not everything was lost. And then it was up to the 18th floor of Harrah's for the obligatory buffet. It was awful.

Sometimes the best thing about a vacation away from home is returning home after the vacation is done. Both Scot and I are feeling that tug of homesickness. The desire to see our loved ones. To feel comfortable in our own space again. I long to take a walk with my dogs; to walk in my own private wilderness.

Traveling across California, it is difficult to feel too hopeful about the future. Every place we went, the sprawl just keeps getting bigger and wider and further on; humans impinging in reckless droves, ever consuming more space. Highway 50 up to Tahoe has been widened to four lanes way up into the Foothills. This has led to an ugly expansion of McMansions, all of them with that tile roof so common in the Southwest, and not a solar panel to be found anywhere.

All of this growth can be blamed on one commonly held notion, deeply ingrained in almost all human culture and certainly taught by almost all Religion: The Earth was created for humans to dominate. Adherence to this belief leads, inevitably, to sprawl, exploitation, extinction and extirpation of all non-human species. We will never end the growth monster until somehow, someway, in a 100th Monkey sort of fashion, we come to the notion that we are not the Crown of Creation.

The Chain of Being leads to Chains for all other Non-Human Beings.

Visit a National Park and you will first experience the "Visitor's Center". Here you will see exhibits that teach about ecology. This education is done in the antiseptic way similar to the way we teach sexual education to 7th Graders. After looking at the sterile exhibits, step outside and you will find a trail, handicapped accessible of course, that leads to some interesting tree, view, rock. That trail will end in about 200 yards which is about the length most Americans can tolerate walking. After that, it is back into the car to the next exhibit, where the whole process is repeated, not by a Visitor's Center, but by a sign--and then the inevitable paved trail to the interesting tree, view, rock.

Nothing in this "educational experience" leads to a dramatic shift in world view. We see nature as a museum exhibit. And we have Parks for all those animals to live in, therefore we can build, drill and exploit every place else because some small smidgen of land has been left to wild things. The wolves have Yellowstone, saith the Rancher; that's quite enough for them. And so the goal in Montana is to have a population of wolves that number in the low 100's.

National Parks don't educate. They are amusement parks.

So where does that shift away from an Anthropocentric view of life occur? How can we get enough people to change the way we think, the way we live, so that we limit our impact on the world and we let other species pursue their right to happiness?

It has to happen through moral persuasion. A religious experience that sinks deep into our souls. We bring out the holy books written by Leopold, Abbey, Muir. A visit to a National Park won't do it. Only dedicated Servants of Nature who unabashedly speak up for the rights of other species, like Paul Watson and his brave crew, only then might we make a tiny bit of a difference.

But first off, people need to get outside with a quality wilderness experience. You can't love what you don't know. Unfortunately, visiting a National Park will not necessarily lead to such a transformation. It is sad that our one best hope for environmental transformation has been turned into something similar to a visit to Six Flags.


  1. "National Parks don't educate. They are amusement parks"

    Hi Allan,

    While I get your point, I think the Parks are very educational, but subtly. Since most Americans these days are confined to cities, and rarely interact with nature, what little they do experience must be very strong in its influence, despite the usual distractions of crowding, souvenirs, bad parking, etc. Most people, when they visit the Grand Canyon, the hackneyed example, probably do get a spiritual rush, even if just for a microsecond, which will stick. I also think people intuitively understand that they are nature-deprived, and it doesn't take much to reinforce this understanding. Nothing creates appetite better than just a little taste.

    Maybe in a hundred years the NPs will be treated as the holy places they are. Hopefully it will be us, not just the coyotes.

    Hope you're feeling much better.


  2. Great post. I find it hard not to despair when I see the sprawl and the increasing disconnection between humanity and the rest of nature.

    Even if our society never shakes completely free of the notion that humans are the "crown of creation," hopefully we will come to our senses and realize that our survival ultimately depends upon living in harmony with the rest of creation--rather than as the mere exploiters of it.

    Thanks for your post.

  3. Sorry to hear your camping trip got rained out. I live in Washington State. If I had a dollar for every outing that had a rain component, I'd be a rich man! Anyway, really enjoyed your blog post. Enjoy the rest of your summer!

  4. Thanks for your response Bill and Bill. I agree with the Nature Deficit thing---I think it was Ed Abbey who said that sex was the only thing that we do now that we used to do in nature. Sex is the last vestiges of natural living--which probably explains its popularity, maybe even more obsessional now that we don't have a connection to nature. It's the last creaturely thing that we do.

    And to the other Bill, I share your despair.

    And Trail Guy, it is rather embarrassing to admit that I hate to camp in the rain. Living in sunny California has spoiled me. Made me as soft and squishy as a marshmallow. Plus I had a friend along who was naïve to camping.