Never have I felt a tension with our natural world more than in Grand Teton National Park. “Hey, you’re not supposed to feed wildlife!” I blurted a bit too hysterically at young men tossing nuts to ground squirrel. That night fellow campers snuck through our site to forage wood from the forest. The next day children threw rocks into a sensitive wetland as if fueled by some hellish fire. Later a man approached bison a little too closely, cheesing into his selfie-stick. After that a hiker passed by blaring music from her phone. Then a huge crowd of camera haulers rushed toward a grizzly bear crossing the street with her cub.
Is it just me, or are we – humanity – drowning in our misguided actions as we try to enjoy this thing called nature?
If one million…
- If one million people fed nuts to squirrels, then those squirrels would no longer know how to feed themselves. Or they’d all die from food not designed for them.
- If one million people foraged fallen wood from the forest floor, then the nature of the forest would change, and not in a good way.
- If one million children threw rocks into a sensitive wetland like it was their job, then all the lily pads would get crushed. Or the wetland would fill up and cease to exist.
- If one million people got too close to bison, then one million people might get gorged and killed from wild, yes wild, animals.
- If one million hikers blared music from their phones, then the mountains would turn into the world’s largest concert hall and scare all animals away.
- If one million crowds of camera haulers rushed toward a grizzly bear and her cub. Well.
Let us float fluidly like the canoe and create ripples, yet leave no trace in the long run.
Park Rangers = Heroes
Our time in Grand Teton has raised my respect for park rangers by 1,000%. These folks are on a daily mission to educate and chastise people into understanding a balance with nature.
As I wrote about recently, stories of our clash with the wild are all over the news, but it’s entirely different to be a first-hand witness.
So why don’t we get it?
Why isn’t it intuitive? Maybe because our society outside of parks doesn’t require us to be balanced with nature. (At least, not yet). We simply don’t know any better.
The hope in all of this is that for every error, a lesson is learned. Maybe we leave parks with a little more respect and clarity. I think the greatest gift a park can give unsuspecting tourists is knowledge about our natural world and our place in it. That we’re not just visitors, but influencers in the places so many of us love. Even our cars have an impact.
In our struggle to stay afloat with nature, it’s important to reflect on some wise words by naturalist Adolph Murie:
The goal is to have the minimum manipulation in our parks, to allow, where at all possible, the existing ecological factors to operate naturally. Let us be guardians rather than gardeners.
If I could stamp this message on every billboard across America, I would. The implication goes far beyond parks, suggesting we act as guardians in every way possible each and every day. In how we use resources, consume animals, produce goods, etc.
But for now our focus is on parks.
A recent canoe voyage on Jackson Lake took us away from the chatter of summer vacationers toward the misty mountains of the Teton Range. The mysterious mood enveloped us as the shoreline disappeared, and I felt myself floating in the midst of a balanced system. All was still, yet so alive. A mighty wave of peace washed over as engines and shouts faded away.
It’s my greatest wish of all for humanity to maintain this balance. Let us float fluidly like the canoe and create ripples, yet leave no trace in the long run.
So when we look back at that lake, we see its mirrored surface as still as it once was.