I read an article today that called John Muir’s philosophy irrelevant. In case you don’t know, John Muir was an early environmentalist who believed in our oneness with the earth and advocated the importance of keeping some wilderness areas as undisturbed as possible so we can experience nature in its original state and to ensure that there will be wilderness areas for coming generations to experience. He founded the Sierra Club to further promote his ideas, and while the Sierra Club has gone beyond strictly environmental issues into other political arenas, Muir’s philosophy still holds true. It is important to spare at least parts of the earth from human depredation, because who are we and who would we be without the earth?
Muir’s detractors think his philosophy implies that only awe-inspiring parks are worth saving, and that his vision is rooted in economic privilege and benefits mostly rich white folks with the leisure to backpack, rock climb, and otherwise enjoy the far off places. They say that new generations, especially the diverse communities of working class and minorities, see the world differently than WASPs such as Muir, and that it’s more important to cater to their vision by creating and protecting urban parks and close-in mountain areas.
I don’t know what the rich think — as a matter of fact, until reading this article, I haven’t even seen the phrase “White Anglo Saxon protestant” in years. I’m certainly not a WASP — well, technically I am white, I suppose, though traces of Finno-Ugric blood might skew that a bit. But I am not Anglo-Saxon, protestant, rich, or privileged in the way such folks are said to be.
Nor do I know what the poor or those in diverse communities think. Perhaps they no longer believe it’s important to keep some wilderness areas pristine for the sake of our souls. Perhaps close-in parks are more important to them, but that is their choice. It does not negate the need for hard-to-reach wilderness areas. Besides, most people I know who love to hike or commune with the mountains or find solitude and spirituality in the far reaches of the wilderness are not rich. Some are retired with fixed incomes, some make great sacrifices to be able to afford the lifestyle they love/need, and some indulge their nature-lust in the small increments their time or money afford them.
I’m one of those who like close-in places because of the ease in accessing them. I can walk to the desert from where I am currently staying, and in fact have spent thousands of hours hiking those informal trails. Even if I never went up to the mountains, I still like knowing there are relatively untouched places, and that we as a people value them so much we will protect them.
Seems to me, such an ideal is always relevant.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.