Personal Narrative- Destruction of Nature
If you ever get a chance to visit Chaco Canyon National Monument in New Mexico, you should take the time to just stand in the desert and listen. The silence in this place is physical; you can feel it surround you. This is a silence with depth and layers that are unbroken even by the wind, which moves through emptiness and speaks only in occasional sighs through the canyons. The air itself is very clear—the lack of humidity gives the cliffs and buttes sharp lines, and the colors of the earth, though muted, stand in stark relief to the blueness of the sky. Night comes gradually to this place. The height and dryness of the air allows the stars to appear before the sun has set—creating an odd contrast of light and darkness in which night is falling on one horizon while the sun reddens the other. Standing on the cliff tops you can see the sky deepen from blue to black. At night the only lights come from the stars and moon, and the faint smear of light that is the city of Albuquerque, fifty miles away. This small blemish on the horizon haunts my memory in some ways, like an eyelash in the eye, because I know that twenty years ago the night was perfectly dark.
In his book Cosmos, Carl Sagan quotes two amateur astronomers as saying, “We have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” But my question is, if we do not fear the darkness, why do we constantly seek to keep it at bay with our streetlights and floodlamps? Emerson declares that if man would be alone, let him look at the stars. With the defeat of the night, we have also blocked out the stars. Do we fear isolation? Or is it the undeniable presence of uncontrollable forces or of decay that is present and necessary to natural processes? The stars, he continues, “separate between [one] and vulgar things.” Or are we merely arrogant?
These are issues that I often ponder. I realize this consciousness is atypical of many of my compatriots. However, the roots of my compulsive musings are not wholly random because I was subjected to much similar thinking from an early age. Having grown up in a region where civilization and development were slow in coming, and where trees outnumber cornstalks and coal mines corn silos, we had ample opportunity to reflect on man’s relationship to nature. My parents are two well-educated, biologically trained individuals with an almost obsessive need to be outdoors. They met, so the story goes, in a graduate school class when my mother asked my father for his pocketknife to scrape moss from a tree trunk. It was love amongst the bryophytes. They spent several years trekking all over the U.S. on vacations to national forests and monuments and deserts and mountains, and my arrival on the scene did not cease their wanderings. Though I did restrict the locale. There are numerous pictures of one of my parents standing on some wooded ridge with the peak of my red hat sticking up over their shoulder.
Once I was...