“For a nation that grows more metropolitan and industrialized every year, the experience of solitude, even the simple fact of quiet, has become inestimable . . . It is imperative to maintain portions of the wilderness untouched, so that a tree will rot where it falls, a waterfall will pour its curve without generating electricity, a trumpeter swan may float on uncontaminated water – and moderns may at least see what their ancestors knew in their nerves and blood.”
— Bernard DeVoto, Fortune, June 1947
Before I was even born it was clear that economic expansion was high priority, usually at the expense of the environment. Such is the legacy of my Boomer generation. Sustainability was a concept just a few prophets championed; chasing ‘bigger’ and ‘better’ and ‘more convenient’ was the duty of those decades. Only a handful of visionaries sensed the importance of allowing a tree to rot where it fell.
Some days it feels as if only a handful still do. Some days I look around, a morsel of anguish niggling under my sternum, asking “Who understands? Who cares?” The thought is sobering: an entire body of ‘nerve-and-blood’ knowledge is being, or has been, lost in the name of progress. A precious few moderns, the fortunate ones whose parents inculcated in them a respect for and love of nature, may glimpse that which was life and breath and heartbeat and survival for our predecessors. This privilege is earned through repeated intervals boldly spent away from civilization’s tentacles — a sacrifice many do not care to make.
I’m not a New Age devotee, nor do I sense mystical ties with forebears. However, every time I encounter a ruin or ancient granary, explore rock art, or stumble upon a shard or arrowhead, a deeper connection is forged with my ancestors and with the world in which they lived. It broadens my perspective, strings a tenuous thread backward over millennia and — it is hoped — forward to upcoming generations I’ve not yet met.