“But the love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need — if only we had the eyes to see. Original sin, the true original sin, is the blind destruction for the sake of greed of this natural paradise which lies all around us — if only we were worthy of it.”
~Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
You smell the sweet, sharp scent of wet wood. You hear the soft pat pat pat of the rain on the bulbous leaves sheltering you. You feel the weak crunch of soiled twigs and sticks as you make your way through the lushous brush. You see every shade of every color you’ve ever known; all of them growing, twisting, and knotting themselves into trees, birds, flowers, and insects. You taste the life and the freshness of the air, breathing in and out.
Where are you?
Are you in a forest? Are you out in nature? In a park? On a deserted island?
Better yet, where are these places? Where is the forest? Where is nature?
Edward Abbey, a famous essayist, sought to find an answer to these questions. A fierce lover of nature, Abbey often found answers by exploring canyons and mountains and rivers and everything beautiful that you and I wish we could see every day. Abbey realized that nature is everywhere. Nature does not cease to exist because someone built a highway or an office building. The city in which one commutes to work is no less of a forest than Sequoia National Park; the only difference is that our society has overrun the city and squashed its soil with our concrete such that it can no longer breathe. The bridge over which one crosses every day to work is no less a river than the rushing water below it. The bedroom in which one sleeps contains no less crisp air than the fresh air on the other side of the window pane. In other words, there is no true divide between our world and the wilderness other than the walls we build in our minds. By dissociating the wilderness with where we live and work, we stop taking responsibility for our space. Further, we become blinded to the consequences of our actions towards the environment, as our morality is defined by proximity. If nature is some distant land, we’re not so inclined to take care of it. But if nature is our street…well, then, maybe we would stop to pick up the McDonald’s wrapper lying beside the sewer. Maybe we’d be careful with what comes out of the chimney. Maybe we would step around the dandelions in the yard instead of stepping on them…because we wouldn’t treat a national park like that, so why should we treat our homes, cities, and farms any differently?
It’s important to remember that we are never truly escaping nature, and we are never truly disconnected from it. Whether you’re at the climbing gym, at home, at work, or at the crag, you’re in the wilderness. It’s just up to you to decide how you’re going to treat it.
Snuggled tight, you hear the echo of the rain on your sill (or is the faucet dripping?). Taking a whiff, you smell the faintest hint of wet dog. Peering around, you see the lightest black shapes illuminated by the moonlight. Tired, you let your eyelids fall as you are carried away into the flowing abyss of sleep…gently floating farther and farther away.
Where are you?