Ranger Kathryn's Arches

November 21, 2011

In their nerves and blood

From here I can ponder just about everything. Mostly big concepts. Wilderness is the appropriate place for that task. (Photo credit: E Oak)

“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.

Same alcove, side view. I tremble at the thought that someone might assume I'm sitting on the ancient wall, so this is to show that I am indeed on a separate boulder. Pondering, of course. (Single- or double- click for Big or Bigger.) (Photo: E Oak)

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.


  1. Well said!

    Comment by kathy lewis — November 21, 2011 @ 7:48 pm | Reply

  2. Important comments, wonderfully written. I too am distressed at how much of our lives are spent inside and away from the natural world. The modern inside job and modern inside lifestyle certainly have benefits: we are probably safer and able to live more comfortably than our predecessors. However, I can’t tell you how often I feel that, as I sit in this climate controlled office, at my desk and in front of the computer screen all day long, looking out windows that do not open, my soul is not very alive.

    Comment by Davis Middlemas — November 22, 2011 @ 4:41 pm | Reply

    • Your last six words weigh me down, even though we’ve never met. It is a heavy burden to have a soul that is more dead than alive. My consolation is in knowing that you recognize the stultifying effects of your Life Indoors — the all-important first step. It is my hope that there are small changes people can make, while constrained by the career that they’ve chosen. I want to do a future post about this; thanks for your thoughts.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — November 23, 2011 @ 6:33 pm | Reply

      • No, I do not want to weigh you down and I was perhaps a bit dramatic. I write things like that often to just spur myself into making changes to my life; I have recently vowed to do everything possible to get outside more and to appreciate our beautiful finite Earth everyday in some small way. Your blog is encouraging me in that direction. I look forward to continuing to read about your thoughts and adventures in the places I dream about going: Arches, Canyonlands and other parts of the desert Southwest.

        Comment by Davis Middlemas — November 27, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

  3. Thanks for the encouragement and place to ponder. Mmmmm. And gorgeous, skillful photography that uses the picture = thousand words leverage. Good stuff!

    Comment by lskoehn4 — November 25, 2011 @ 9:57 am | Reply

    • It is one of my photos I keep going back to. The place itself is one of my favorites in Canyonlands, and, as you can see from the scenery, hard to improve on. I chose it because it perfectly suited my text, and I appreciate hearing that you made that connection. Thanks for commenting.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — November 25, 2011 @ 7:01 pm | Reply

  4. One of my favorite places on earth. I sure hope this area stays intact with the amount of people that have been in there over the last 15 years since I first experienced it.

    Comment by Jeff Mark — December 29, 2011 @ 4:56 pm | Reply

    • I was just there this morning. It’s as lovely and mysterious as ever.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — December 29, 2011 @ 5:00 pm | Reply

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