I love my window seat. The jet stream has had, for the past week, a huge and wide-sweeping arc over Washington and Oregon. As a resule the skies have abeen clear of clouds and the temperatures at night have been low. The colors of the sky then have been of a consistent watercolor wash with an even mix of blues and purples at the sunset. It is with deep affection that I gaze intently out of the window and trace, with my eyes, the outlines of the cedar, fir, and pine trees covering Skinner’s Butte. Their green made all the more lush by the deepening layers of night’s blanket. ON the other side of the butte is the Willamette River, and along this is the Eugene metro area. Yet, for the moment I am able to forget the city’s presence, to trace the outline of trees through the lavendar sky, and believe it the edges of another world.
Another world of natural beauty, of conscious existence within the stage of that beauty, and a beauty which is real, not in the post-card sense of appeasing images, but in the act of being within it. There is beauty in a thunderstorm, a flood, a quiet sunrise, a black night, thought some of these situations assuredly can kill. Why then are they beautiful?
Perhaps the category is too big to grasp. Lets say a tree, or a flower… in thinking of a flower or a tree I can find nothing in such things to claim beauty of it’s own sake. A flower is no more beautiful than a horsefly of their own accord, but in the hearts of man the flower generally wins out in such a beauty contest. Beauty lives in the hearts of man and nothing in the world is beautiful save that a person extends beauty out onto that which he views. We see, then, a reflection of our selves.
Why do we go to art museums? To be sure there is the usual “that is pretty” or “that is a good technique” or “good use of shadow there”… but for the masses the enjoyment comes, I believe, in the viewing themselves staring back at themselves through the medium of art. The viewer is acting on similar behaviors which the “ham” at home takes enjoyment in seeing the video a relative took of him at a family reunion. We like to look at ourselves, we are in perpetual contemplation about ourselves, we are living a life we are trying to figure out, with a “self” we are sometimes unsure if we’ve constructed (a dizzying circle of hens and eggs) or if it is an automaton of environmental routines played out on the behavioral level. Whatever the case, we need the self-reflection, any growth of a person, of a society is, I believe, heavily weighted upon this need of self-reflection. And if we get such responses from works of art, the responses from the natural setting around us is even more varied in the “pictures” given to us. It is no condition of the planet that some places are deemed “paradise” while others are deemed “armpits”. The lizzard likes them all the same. We need the wilderness, for a variety of reasons, but among them for an amply open canvass of self-reflection.
To the environmental question then, why save wilderness? The argument is often put into the constraints of economic or political meanings and it is to the detriment of an environmental argument to conform to this rigid and limited view. It ceases to be an environmental argument but an economic argument and the positions to debate are then ones of money and not ones of ecology. However, money talks and those who have a hammer believe that all the world is a nail, so too with those in power, who have money, that all the world revolves around money. Thankfully, it does not.
Imagine taking a trip to Yosemite with Dick Cheney, a man of sour disposition and no character to speak of. What would a stroll through the valley be like with such a man? Are we to limit our environmental heritage, the future of our national character, the romanticism of our wilderness because of a feeble old man who’s only ambitions is to hoard personal wealth with cold and broken heart strings who says that environmentalism is an unneccesary virtue?
I use the term romanticism purposefully. We are a nation of workers and idealists, quick to root for the underdog, determined in our righteous causes. Are our working morals in danger? Judging from the number of people that I know and work with who hold more than one job, while providing for a family, and trying to better themselves, I would say no. Have no fear that relishing in romantic notions will turn the nation soft. Instead, nurture the fires of passion within every one of us. Cheney called environmentalism a virtue. Are we so full of virtue that we should toss aside those deemed disposable by smug millionaires, themselves rich by the virtue of our hard work? What if we grew virtues in our social conscious, many of them, without the tyranical demands of simple minded, greedy, political dolts? Would America become more like that shining city on the hill by our attention to virtues, or instead by the fact that everyone works fifty-hour weeks in a developed landscape while an aristocracy of CEO’s continue to subjugate the hearts and minds into only virtues that truly matter (to them)… work and spend money?
Recall arguments from the Deep South regarding the anti-slavery arguments, the impractical dimensions of the abolitionist plans was the main strength of the Deep South’s arguments. Stop to pause on this one point… the argument over the continuation of human slavery in the United States was fought along the battle lines of practicality… PRACTICALITY. If this is not an absurd slap in the face of our notions of integrity and the role of reason to meter out a just society, I am lacking a better ecxample. The pro-slavery side attacked two weaknesses of the anti-slavery side 1) that those who believed slavery would die a natural death were only naive utopians proven wrong by the recent census; 2) gradual emancipation plans adopted in the North were inoperative models for the nation as a whole because the Northern States contained only 10 percent of the slave population.
To believe that the hearts and minds of the citizens of our great country are deserved more than the ever-oppressing demands to produce wealth for the few, that there is in our very charter as a nation the directive of ensuring the peace, welfare, and tranquility of it’s citizens, of promoting the rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, which I believe is infinitly strengthened by protected wilderness areas and tempered development into such; this belief is what makes me an American. Death to all tyrants over the hearts and minds of men.