In the desert landscape of Hopi land, runners draw attention to water, reverence, and life.
As the sun creeps over the arid desert during the early morning hours, runners listen in silence as a cadent Hopi prayer is recited by an elder over the intercom, initiating their 31-mile journey. His voice is soft, giving no thought to how he may sound through a microphone; his prayers and intents do not need amplification. A few modest tents containing registration information and snacks circle the small group of pulsing runners as they wait for the clock to start. The neon pinks and yellows of their high-tech running gear stands out in contrast to the tans and browns of the mesa.
"I run in reverence for all living things. In our prayers, may we always remember that water is life.”
At the start line, Bucky Preston recites the motto for the Paatuwaqatsi Run, a footrace held on the Hopi reservation in northeastern Arizona every September. There are three courses: a 4-mile, 10-mile and 50K, which all follow ancient and technical trails. The quote—printed on the participant t-shirts and held in the hearts of the run organizers—is an intention that carries the weight of a running history and human responsibility that goes back for generations.
While there is a clock present, time doesn’t matter on these trails, which have been used by the Hopi people for generations to connect communities and hold spiritual value.
According to Bucky Preston, who founded the event in 2003, the run’s end goal is more than just completion.
“It is not a race, it is a spiritual run,” said Preston.
Raised in the small town of Walpi on the Hopi reservation, he believes that running these trails maintains the values and tradition of his heritage.
“The run was created to stimulate thought, prayer, and meditation,” said Kim Secakuku, who has been the race director for the past eight years. “It is a different kind of run than competition. It is instilling how running is a way of prayer and sense of spirituality—it is good for the soul.”
Preseton’s message is clear: he is excavating the deeper meaning behind running, what it really means culturally, to Hopi.
“I want to see that effort return to our community,” Preston writes on the event’s website. “Putting Hopi life values and teachings at the forefront is the purpose of the run.” The run begins and ends with a prayer; it is a sacred experience for many involved.
He created the event, also known as “The Water is Life Run,” with intent to reclaim recognition for the running tradition of his people and for the water that is so scarce and cherished in the Arizona desert.
Running for water has been a central part of Preston’s life for years. Running hundreds of miles from his home to various destinations, he has drawn local attention to the issues facing native peoples and this essential resource. “There’s a lot happening today with water everywhere. I’ve been doing these runs all the time,” he said. “ I’ve run to Flagstaff and Zuni and Acoma and all my campaigns are about water.”
Around 72 miles north of Preston’s birthplace is the Kayenta Mine — a sprawling excavation site, where the Peabody Western Coal Company has mined for coal since 1973. The mine occupies nearly 45,000 acres.
Coal mining uses an exorbitant amount of water for controlling dust and creating coal slurry. The Kayenta Mine pumps millions of tons of water out of the Navajo Aquifer every year — the primary source of fresh water for communities on both Navajo and Hopi land. The depletion of water in the area has led to sacred springs, the sources of ceremonial water, being vastly reduced or disappearing altogether.
According to the Peabody Energy website, “Peabody’s Arizona operations have injected an estimated $3 billion in economic benefits for tribal communities. For example, native people comprise more than 90 percent of Kayenta Mine’s 430-person workforce.”
Still, the unemployment rate on reservations remains above the national average while ceremonial waters are running dry. Preston believes the costs of coal mining greatly outweigh the benefits.
“We have to have humility and prayer and sacredness — and water is sacred,” Preston said. “The way we do things in ceremonies all has to do with water and that’s why we have to protect it.”
Preston, along with many other activists in Arizona, including the Black Mesa Trust and the Black Mesa Water Coalition, have spoken out against Peabody Energy and their activities on Hopi and Navajo land for decades.
The coal mining industry is just one of the many water issues that have plagued the reservations in the recent century. Arsenic—in concentrations twice the limit recommended by the EPA—is present in the Hopi drinking water. After the introduction of livestock and coal mining at the turn of the 20th century, wells were drilled by the US government and stakeholders on Hopi land, which later led to the introduction of running water to their villages.
In many areas in the west, arsenic is present in ground water. In the past, Hopi people had relied on springs for clean, potable water. When running water was introduced in the 1980s from these wells, tribe members noticed an odd taste to it; but with the springs depletion and increasing population, there was little choice but to drink it.
Today, nearly 75% of Hopi people are drinking the tainted well water, with little resources or funding to implement solutions. Many drive for hours to purchase bottled water from outside the reservation to supply their homes—an unsustainable band-aid for the health of the tribe. Cancer rates on the reservation are significantly higher than other communities in Arizona.
There are constant efforts to rebuild infrastructure and purify the water, such as the recent authorization to build a pipeline running from First and Second Mesa (the areas with the highest levels of contamination) to cleaner wells in the northern part of the reservation. Yet, there are insufficient resources and funding to complete these projects, which may take years.
“This run provides the outside world a way to see how these issues affect Hopi,” says Sekakuku.
Dozens of people, from all corners of the nation, travel to participate. “It creates awareness that most people don’t think of,” she said.
In such a dry place, the sand is merciless. 50K participants run across the starting line and immediately into a series of sand traps. Vegetation and root systems, which typically keep soil in place, are absent along the trails, resulting in long sections of loose and unforgiving terrain. Each step up sinks in just deep enough to make one feel as though they are running in place. At the top of the first hill, only a half mile in, many can be seen sitting on the ground dumping a waterfall of sand out of their shoes. Some battle the grains throughout the entire endeavor, stopping to empty their Hokas and Asics with such frequency that they would be better off without them—not seemingly far from the truth as those sporting sandals or less trot past their cushioned companions.
Between periodically hurdling themselves over sandy hills and across dry creek beds, runners are relieved to pummel their dusty feet on rocky mesa trails—until that too, becomes unbearable and sand a blessing. All the while, the unrelenting sun beats down upon Hopi land.
“Even just being out there and running around in the desert heat, you get a sense of extreme scarcity, specifically water,” says runner Edward Kemper, 33, of Flagstaff, Arizona. “It's dry, to put it simply.”
The course is laden with enough challenges to break down any runner. However, this event stands out in its ability to braid the struggle with Preston’s campaign for the sanctity of culture and water.
“It’s a deeply personal and spiritual event,” said Andy Bessler, a former member of the Sierra Club who now manages the race’s bank account. “You really get the picture that there is a survival component of this issue — that water is critical. You have people just saying thank you … It’s transformative for some people. I have seen people break down and cry.”
Wyatt Brown, 43, of Flagstaff Arizona, was one of those people when he ran in 2010. “By the time I finished the race, I was physically depleted,” he says. “I was crying and bleeding, and at the same time my mind was full of all of this crazy information that all the locals had given me out there. You weren't just running a race, you were running for their life.”
Sand and dust slip into every crease and crevice and coat every surface. By mile 20, neon blue compression socks are brown. Hot pink shorts are tan. Beet red faces are grainy with salt and earth. The runners begin to blend in with the desert hues, melting into the topography.
They look less like foreigners, more like the land.
“Askwali! Askwali!” a group of women shout near an aid station. “Thank you!”
The Paatuwaqatsi Run emits the spirit of Hopi history. It is a platform for shared experiences between non Native Americans and those who call the reservation home.
Many participants, like Tiana Tallant, 28, of Flagstaff, Arizona, find themselves running back year after year because of the opportunity to connect across cultures.
“What is meaningful to me is the simplicity of the event, the fullness of which people are present,” says Tiana. “It's about connecting, looking at something greater than yourself. Everyone is going out there in the spirit of doing the same thing—everyone is trying as hard as they can.”
Bessler, who has been present through the evolution of the run over the years, recognizes the importance of taking these lessens home. “I think every year revives me,” he says “Everyone should strive to be Hopi . That means living in peace, living in a good way. I really try to strive to be Hopi as best as I can. This run reminds me of that.”
The Hopi run hard, and the race is an ode to a long history of their running culture—characterized by excellent race performance, but grounded in spirit. “Run as hard as you can, pray as hard as you can, that's part of it. But it's a prayer. It's a running prayer,” says Bessler.
More than a century ago, Lewis Tewanima, a Hopi who spent most of his life living on the reservation, became a two time olympian and hero for the tribe. There is an annual run held on Second Mesa in honor of his achievements. The tribe’s success has continued into recent years; the Hopi High School boys cross country team held an impressive 27-year streak as Arizona state champions, which was only broken this past year.
The Hopi people are long distance runners: a tradition woven into oral stories and practical needs alike. Before the introduction of modern transportation and livestock, the tribe relied on running for their survival.
“Part of our cultural background is being runners,” says Secakuku. “That is the way Hopi people communicated among the villages—but it also it played a role in our culture and religious acts. Making offerings to those shrines and springs continue the prayers, so that life can continue to exist, for all humankind. So that the world will continue to grow in a good way.”
For centuries, neighboring villages across Hopi land have also challenged each other in races along the trails featured in the Paatuwaqatsi Run—those that Preston has rebuilt and is bringing back to life. In this ancient prayer practice, “winners” were not rewarded with medals, but with the prospect and hope of water and well being for the people. These races have carried out an emphasis that running strengthens the heart, mind and body of the individual, but also of the whole community by bringing water and abundance.
As Hopi values have dwindled with the introduction of modern transportation and technology, so have the trails through lack of use.
"These trails are like the blood vessels of our body,” Preston tells runners at the starting line. “Spread out, but all connected. When you put the footprints on the land, that's calling the rain, and it's calling the Kachina and the Cloud People."
Preston emphasizes the ancient wisdom of his ancestors: human thoughts and actions influence the coming of rain. When people are spiritually imbalanced, the relationship with the clouds are compromised—the rain will not come, and the springs run dry. According to this wisdom, water is the blood that sustains all life, and trails are the village veins. Running them brings rain, because each footstep is a prayer to the Earth that keeps the trails alive and flowing, like water.
“Our knowledge, laws and ways of life teach us to be responsible at all times in caring for this sacred gift [water] that connects all life,” reads The Indigenous Declaration on Water, written collectively by indigenous peoples from all over North America at the International Conference on Water for People and Nature in 2001. “In ceremony and as time comes, the Water sings. Her songs begin in the tiniest of streams, transforms to flowing rivers, travels to majestic oceans, and thundering clouds, and back to the earth, to begin again. When Water is threatened, all living things are threatened.”
The indigenous sentiment that water is life—that water is alive—births practices, ancient and modern, that revere and protect the waters. The Dakota Access Pipeline protests, the Water is Life run, and the formation of political campaigns dedicated to the protection of this animate resource are modern manifestations of an ancient principal.
Running the veins of the land, offering gifts to the springs, protesting the contamination of rivers, or praying with our footsteps like drums on the earth—is is all about water.
In the final miles, the desert paints skin and gear with the arid camouflage of soil and challenge and the lines between cultures blur.
A Hopi woman stands at the finish line, holding a clay pot filled with water. Someone is speaking over the intercom.
“One day we will all leave this earth, but our footprints will stay.”
As runners step across the finish line, she pours the water over each salt-stained face. For each runner, the water revives, replenishes and renews. The physical rejuvenation emphasizes the central reason for why we run: water is life.
This Thanksgiving, I am thinking about more than the concept of "thankfulness." For me, and many others, Thanksgiving is also a day to mourn. We get this idea that commercialized holidays are supposed to be perpetually happy (even annoyingly so), and that everything is all good. Newsflash: That is not life. Life is dynamic: simple and complicated all at the same time. Life is full of feelings, and feeling alive does not equate to feeling happy all the time. Being aware and mindful means that we are no longer ignorant, and no longer blissful. It means that we see beyond our own lives, beyond our own reality. This being said, Thanksgiving will forever be a day of emotion, of feeling life, and it's full spectrum of grief and praise.
Thanksgiving's apparent purpose is to celebrate the hospitality of natives when Europeans first came to America. Everyone knows the story of the “first thanksgiving,” since the event has been played out by elementary schoolers across the country for years, cultural appropriation abound.
The indigenous people of this land and the foreigners shared a feast of the land’s bounty, which was indeed bountiful before it was colonized and exploited by Westerners. Sound familiar?
At this feast, they ate wild game and turkey.
Today, America factory farms a bastardized variation of these same birds, treating them as products rather than animals — living, breathing, feeling beings. During Thanksgiving season, families flock to supermarkets to buy pounds and pounds of turkey meat, many not thinking about what that animal suffered through to be on their plates. On the very holiday dedicated to giving “thanks,” we give very little thought let alone thankfulness to the animals that suffer for our gluttony.
At this feast, the Native American people gave graciously to the pilgrims.
Since then, white man has taken. Taken until these people have had nothing.
My culture — the “American” culture, the Western ideology — has raped, pillaged, killed, and oppressed native people for hundreds of years. My consumeristic, self-entitled culture has taken this land as theirs. We have committed cultural genocide against every native culture: killing them, converting them, telling them that their culture is wrong. We have uprooted them, transplanted them, concentrated them onto small reservations, and then contaminated the little land set aside for them. We have ignored their beliefs and their wishes, and we have destroyed and disrespected all that is sacred to them. We took everything we could, and what little we didn't take, we contaminated.
And we continue to do these very injustices.
If Native American’s were given the respect they deserve today, Peabody Coal Mine would have never opened on the Navajo Reservation, slurrying the little water they have away. Abandoned uranium mines would not litter the same reservation, exposing families to harmful, radioactive contamination. Dakota Access Pipeline would not need hundreds of protestors to prove the point that water is sacred, that Native American voices matter. Instead, the coal, mineral, and other resource mining companies that our very own president-elect supports have more power to rip up the land, contaminate the water, and poison the people than the people have to defend themselves and the land they love.
If Native American’s were given the respect they deserve today, food deserts would not exist on Reservations. Politicians would listen. The confluence of the Little Colorado and the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, a sacred site to indigenous people, would be safe from development. The sacred San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff would not be an overdeveloped tourist attraction that sprays unsafe, environmentally degrading and socially disrespectful water all over the place.
Thanksgiving can be a beautiful holiday. It brings families together to celebrate being thankful for each other and for life. However, there is something backwards about how it all happens. We are thankful for food, so we unconsciously gorge ourselves. We are thankful for the hospitality of Native Americans, yet they were not considered citizens until the 1920s, and were not given many basic rights until much later. We are thankful for all we have, yet at midnight it is custom to trample each other at the mall to buy as much stuff as we can for the lowest price on Black Friday.
Although we should be giving thanks every day of our lives, at the core, I do believe that Thanksgiving is special in that it gives us a chance to come together and love our friends, our families, and our world. But, that should always come with awareness.
On this day, I am thankful for my education. I am thankful for the opportunity to learn and become aware of the underlying reality of America’s situation, and what this holiday really is — what it really means.
With this awareness, my heart aces. My heart aches every day for the loss of humanity’s connection to nature, to our Mother. I weep for the rape of the land, the exploitation of the Real World. Today, my heart aches for the people who never have and never will deserve the pain and suffering that they have endured since Europe made contact to the Americas. I weep for my Native American friends whose ancestors have suffered, and who suffer today with the continuation of injustice and exploitation. I weep for the past, and I weep for the present: for the fact that I live within an hour drive of lands that are being destroyed by people who don’t own it, understand it, or care about — and people who are oppressed by my culture.
I weep because I will never truly understand what it is like to suffer as these people have and do.
No one, so long as your skin tone marks your privilege, will ever truly understand what it feels like. We can only speculate, we can only imagine, and we can only compare it to the suffering that we experience in our own lives.
I weep, yet this is motivation to make change; and I will do my damn best to do what I can in this lifetime to foster the connection between humanity and our Mother Earth, be the voice to those who do not have voices, and bring justice to those who have been suppressed.
This Thanksgiving, and for every year after, I challenge every person to experience this day with mindfulness.
Love your family, love your fellow Humans, love your fellow living beings, and love your Mother Earth. Always be aware of the praise — however, always be aware of the grief.
It was mid-semester, mid-spring break, and I was in the middle of what I call a “funk.” There was some sort of unidentified uneasiness and discontentment in my mind that was slowly building over time, and choosing to hang around. So, after spending most of my break rock climbing, Amanda and I took off and decided to put the ropes away for a few days in exchange for big backpacks and a little soul-searching. What we didn’t expect, however, was that in our search for peace of mind and time in the wild, we would find something very different...but perhaps equally as important and healing.
What we found was trash. Garbage, waste and unsanitary horrors abound.
Sounds healing, doesn't it?
Amanda and I packed our bags, applied sunscreen, ate a quick snack and took off optimistically down the trail towards our chosen hot spring location, a three mile hike down a narrow canyon right on the border of Arizona and Nevada, by the Hoover Dam. The plan was to hike to the hot springs where we could set up our bivy camp, soak all evening, think about life (or not think at all), and enjoy the company of each other and the sounds of the trickling water. From the beginning, however, it became apparent that we had chosen the wrong location to do such things. The Edward Abbey in me started to come out: sporting an endless commentary on the overuse of the trail, the closeness to the freeway, and the views of the massive bridge from the trail (I won't deny having fantasized about blowing it up along with the nearby dam...).
We stayed the course, and found that the further we hiked, the more litter we saw. And I am not talking just plastic water bottles (though abundantly present). I am talking tons of wrappers of all sorts shoved into huecos and pockets in the rock, countless pairs of panties and boxers abandoned in the rocks and draped over the foliage, used condoms, tampons, sanitary napkins, and the not-so-LNT human feces and accompanied toilet paper seemingly flung all over the canyon (Okay, the feces were not sprayed on the walls or anything, but you get what I mean). It seemed that the closer people got to the springs and the most beautiful parts of the canyon, the less they packed out with them. Amanda and I were appalled, but continued in hopes of escaping to a cleaner oasis.
We eventually made it to the end of the canyon, where the trickling warm water flows into the cold, clear Colorado River (though it was not so clear before dams like these were built-- a notable disturbance to the river ecosystem!). We saw a family playing on a small rocky protrusion at the confluence, and waded out to join them and sit in the sun. Shortly after we arrived, they began hiking back before we had a chance to notice that they left all their garbage behind. We picked up after them, and also retreated to the canyon.
There were many people hiking this canyon, more than we expected. Most were not soaking in the springs, but many were romping around with speakers blasting music, while others preferred eating oranges and depositing the peels throughout the canyon. At this point, we had to let go of our grief over the way people were behaving at the springs and enjoy our time. As dinnertime approached, the majority of people trickled out towards their cars. Embracing the semi-solitude, we walked over to one pool and prepared to soak for the evening. Before getting in, however, nature suddenly called and I was in desperate need of the wag bag in my pack! In such a canyon, there were few cat-hole options, so we opted for these nifty (really, they don't even smell!) bags to deal with our waste. I grabbed the packable poop bag and went on to do my business. Next thing I know, I am mid-movement and making eye contact with some poor soul who had scrambled up over a boulder nearby. He had obviously not spent much time in the outdoors where you inevitably witness such an act. He did not know how to react, and looked pretty horrified to see a girl pooping in a bag. The fun didn't end there, as Amanda also had to take care of her business. When the time came, her bathroom break was also interrupted by an all-angle approach of several groups of people, all inexperienced, confused, and mortified. Amanda screamed (drawing more attention to herself, poor girl) and the innocent bystanders panicked. I laughed.
This situation was humorous, but the two of us figured that at least this was a great learning experience for those people... maybe they would stop pooping all over the canyon and consider the bag option? After all, human feces contamination it is a surprisingly major issue for many watersheds, especially near my home in Northern Arizona. For instance, Slide Rock State Park, a creek swimming and recreational area in Sedona, Arizona, has a recurring issue of E. Coli outbreaks. Fossil Creek, another special place known for its clear waters and falls, has similar issues related to too many people, and not enough LNT ethic. As they say, everyone poops. That does not mean, however, that everyone can poop wherever they want. Being a daily act (hopefully) for all humans, defecation is a major wilderness issue-- an issue that can be avoided with proper disposal techniques.
Enough of that crap (haha), let's move on to the more refreshing aspects of this trip.
The sun was setting, and everyone left. We had the place to ourselves, and we were finally able to relax in the spring. After the exodus of self-unaware mobs of people, we settled into what we had set out to find in the first place: solitude. Sure, we were still surrounded by what they had left behind, but nature spoke through it all and we were soothed. In this time, we were able to contemplate our personal struggles, and also the place-- and what we can learn from it. The spring is an incredibly special place. It is full of beauty, and a source of comfort. The high canyon walls allowed for a slot of starry sky to peek down at us. The hot water trickled until it cooled, and created a singing frog habitat that most who explored the canyon that day didn't hear. Yes, there was trash everywhere. Yes, the dam upstream had altered the ecosystem there. Yes, people come in hoards to pluck up the flowers, trample the plants, and spray paint on the rocks. But that place is special. It deserves to be clean.
To an extent, I can't blame those who trashed this place. It is a product of society, values and education. Most of the waste down there is a result of those who have been taught to have these habits. They don't know better, because that is all they have ever known. However, it is still not justified, nor is it right. The people that Amanda and I saw had no clue that they were impacting the area. They do not know the monumental significance of every single action that they make. They do not understand that something thrown away never actually goes away. How is someone to know that they should defecate in a bag or bury it if they have never been taught Leave No trace principles? Why should I expect so much of someone who is not even conscious of any of this?
After sleeping under the stars, we woke up and enjoyed the quiet morning. When the new day brought new crowds, we packed up our gear and prepared to leave--but we could not leave this place in the condition it was in. Amanda, always being prepared, had a 50 gallon trash bag with her (intended for waterproofing, but also great for trail clean-ups!) as well as medical gloves in her first aid kit. We each took a glove, and went to work. We crawled into nooks and retrieved many pounds of trash. We grabbed ungodly items and gathered smelly, awful things (thank you gloves!). We loaded the trash bag and hauled it with us up and out of the canyon, gathering what we could along the way. It was a laborious task, passing the 30-pound bag up 4th class scrambling sections in addition to our overnight packs. The bag reeked, but it felt good to be getting the junk out of the canyon. As we were hiking out, we passed many people heading to the springs. We kindly reminded everyone we passed to pack out their trash, and while some laughed or ignored us, many people took interest and appreciated the comment. By the end of it, we were pretty tired for such a short hike. But we did what we could, and it felt good to know that while we were cleaning the place up, we were also being proactive by setting an example and showing the hikers how trash accumulates.
This blog series is about the root causes of environmental degradation. Here in part 2, I will discuss human disconnection from nature.
Disconnection from nature is something that almost everyone can either relate to, or observe in others. How many people do you know that have never gone camping? Who, in your life, values their connection to technology or money over their connection to nature? How many people do you know that grow their own food? When was the last time you went to a place far away from other humans and their structures, just to listen and be? Fewer people immerse themselves in a natural environment of one form or another than in the past. Moreover, we are seeing people city or suburb-bound who are missing a piece in their life puzzle: time or space dedicated to immersing themselves in the natural world. This is so significant simply because this allows us to remember our human place in nature, and how we are all very closely connected to it.
Understanding the significance of our connection to the environment is critical. Humans are inextricably linked to the environment, since we as living beings are derived from it. We thus necessarily affect each other. Nature impacts us in every way, just as our actions impact all other beings, both living and inanimate. We, as members of the world’s ecosystems in which we live, are constantly dependent on the environment from weather to natural resources. Likewise, we affect nature through our actions and how we interact with and use it. Apart from our material needs, nature also impacts our spiritual well-being. Nature is sacred and priceless; it cannot be bought out or commodified, because it is valuable in its essence. Still, humans do just that, and thus create a system in which the land is abstracted and separated from ourselves.
There are many examples throughout history where western culture has become gradually disconnected from the land. One of the more recent developments is how we produce our food. Richard Louv’s “The Last Child in the Woods” explores the historical point when humans grew closer to machines and further away from nature with the severance of food origins and dwindling farm life. He describes this exodus as the start of a chain reaction leading to what we see today-- and he is not alone in his observations.
Aldo Leopold writes in “A Sand County Almanac” about how the human population started leaving farms, forests, and small rural areas, and thus lost direct connection to the land. He found that in order for humans to treat the natural world with the love and respect that it needs, they must stay connected to it. That is, they must know and understand it. This is essential because, as stated by Erazim Kohák in “The Embers in the Stars,” humans “live their lives in and as their bodies whose rhythm is integrated with the rhythm of nature.” Since our severance from the land, humans have forgotten this rhythm. When we began using machinery to farm the land, that strong human connection to the earth in the form of growing food was lost.
Of course, feeding an overpopulated and hungry world is complicated, and it is simply preposterous to suggest that we cut out machinery (although we can change it…) and regress to the subsistence strategies used thousands of years ago-- but this is not the point I am trying to make. The real issue at hand is that this is just one of the many disconnections we have experienced since the industrial revolution. Losing the land connection prohibits a necessary understanding, knowledge and respect for nature.
The topic of this discourse is the human disconnection from nature, causing anthropogenically initiated environmental issues. However, an understanding of the impacts that such a disunion has on us is essential to addressing this problem. Understanding this is imperative because by negatively affecting the individual, disconnection is creating a positive feedback loop-- a downward spiral of sorts in which humans will only further disconnect themselves from the environment. Our alienation from nature is detrimental to every aspect of being: spiritually, mentally and physically; it impacts human individuals on every level.
One of the most observable impacts that disconnection has on us is Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD). Nature Deficit Disorder is a phenomenon coined and articulated by Richard Louv, described as the result of his “three frontiers.” This “disorder” is not a medical diagnosis, but rather a description of the human costs of alienation from nature. These costs or “symptoms” include diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, depression, and physical and mental illness. This disorder stems from rapidly growing technology (encouraging indoor activities), disconnection from food and where it comes from (also a result of improved technology), and many other instances resulting in the overall theme of disunion with nature.
Nature Deficit Disorder is more than just a “disorder;” it is one symptom of a much broader disease that has plagued the human psyche for years (those pesky roots again-- changes in how we grow food was just one of them!). Although the “disorder” is the result of an overall societal disease, NDD as described by Louv impacts children. This alone is a sign that this phenomena is the product of changing societal tendencies, which directly influence children in their developmental stages: a time when they are most influenced by the actions and values of their mentors and guardians. Therefore, there is no easy fix; no medication, no pill. The solution, just like the problem, is deeply embedded in our culture.
NDD can easily be blamed on technology, yet there are subtle aspects to consider when playing the blame game. Technology has the capability to foster wonderful advancements that improve the world and human life. Using this post’s example, farming technology has undoubtedly improved our ability to feed ourselves. However, these very technologies have pulled us away from the environment from which we came from. There are legitimate problems that people are experiencing (like NDD), and it is evident that it can be traced back to our reactions to these technologies, not the advancements themselves. By becoming dependent and using them in place of real experiences, we are no longer using them as the tools they were intended to be. Technology can so easily be abused, and it is essential that we use it, engineer it, and grow with it-- but always be conscious of it.
Moreover, be conscious of your connection to the environment. All problems have roots, and the first root to the environmental dilemma is man’s disconnection from nature. It has only caused more suffering for us in the form of NDD, among many other impacts to ourselves and the environment. What is the remedy? Well, there are deeper roots yet to explore, and much to be done to address them. In attempt to make change without overwhelming any single person, focusing on one’s individual’s improved connection may be a collective cure. Every person has the power to make lifestyle choices, and even the simplest of actions can make a difference. Invest your time, energy and focus on connecting to the land. Do research, ask questions, and decide for yourself where true value lies.
If you feel anxious, depressed, uneasy, stressed, or unhappy, go outside. Even if you feel fine, go anyways. Go play in the woods, go walk down a trail. Go find a place where you are inclined to hold your breath out of fear of disturbing the silence. Reflect on this-- see for yourself the impact of rediscovering that connection.
Leopold, Aldo, Charles Walsh Schwartz, and Aldo Leopold. A Sand County Almanac. London, Etc.: Oxford UP, 1968.
Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin of Chapel Hill, 2005.
Kohák, Erazim V. The Embers and the Stars: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Moral Sense of Nature. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1984
Ok, I admit it: I love root veggies. Potatoes, yams, beets, carrots...they are all so delicious and healthy-- wait--That’s not where I wanted to go with this. I do love root veggies, but there is only so much I can talk about those. I’d rather just eat them. Anyways, this blog isn’t about vegetables. Sorry, on to the real topic…
What I really want to dive into here is root causes-- specifically, root causes to environmental issues. For the first part of this blog series, I want to begin by explaining why I thought to do this, and how this is all going to work. There are many, many, many reasons why the world is how it is, and why humans of the developed world are the way they are. I am interested in why humans have separated themselves from nature on so many levels, and why we are seeing things like Nature Deficit Disorder and all of its various causes and symptoms (which I will go into more in a later post). Over the past few years, I have pondered the root causes of these issues. As it turns out, I have formed a bit of a theory, supported and inspired by various authors, which really explains this phenomena as having a root cause to another root cause to yet another root cause. Isn't that the way the world works anyways?
So let's talk about roots. When it comes to problems, what do we need to fix? What do we truly need to understand? The root. The core, underlying issue at hand that is most likely causing many other issues, visible or not. The core fix, however, is never the easy fix. Usually, it is something buried deep in a person or society, and let's be honest, no one wants to dig that up. That is why we chose to make life more complicated and slap on bandaids, pop pain killers, and create new policies to contradict and confuse old policies. When an individual is ill with a sore throat, simply popping a few cough drops may alleviate the symptom. However, this is useless when looking at the big picture. In order to truly cure the individual, he or she must discover what is causing the symptom. By identifying the disease, one may be able to take proper medical treatment to recover from the symptom and the disease. However, there may be a deeper root issue causing the disease-- If someone does not take proper care of his or her body by sleeping enough, eating well, and staying active, how can they expect to stay healthy? Illness will continually return to the body, regardless of the medical treatment, if the body is not fundamentally taken care of and treated properly. This is exactly what needs to be applied to the world as a whole. By understanding the root of our social and environmental problems, we are understanding the root cause instead of the disease and its symptoms.
If we begin viewing the world as a body instead of many detached body parts, we will begin to understand the importance of each of these “body parts;” by accepting the utilitarian and intrinsic value in all aspects of earth, from bees to sediments to social welfare, we will also gain a better understanding of how everything is connected. This being said, we can also assume that humans will understand that every action has an effect on everything else in one way or another. With this awareness, our species may consider the health of every part of this “body,” knowing that it cannot function fully and properly without every “organ and bone.” By addressing this root issue, a chain reaction will ensue environmental and social health, thus avoiding environmental and social disease in the first place.
Ha! This would truly be wonderful, wouldn't it? Yet, how naive of me, to think that a) everyone could possibly be on the same page, and b) that I am even right, or that this simple universal understanding would ever bring about an end to the destruction of the environment.
There is something else here; there are more roots to ponder, and more reasons behind our actions. In my opinion, the answers are all simple. However, there are many answers that branch out and become complicated as they are applied to the societal context. For now, I will leave you with this overview of my thoughts about roots. In the next post (Part 2) will dive a little deeper and explore more ideas.
Stay wild, y’all.
We have all experienced that spark of wanderlust. We see photos of towering mountain ranges decorated with snow-capped peaks and think to ourselves, “what if?” Imagine yourself: exhausted, hungry, aching and short of breath-- but in complete and utter awe. Your feet planted on a snow-and-ice-covered point. More specifically, the highest point for miles in every direction. A crisp wind blasts you in the face, and your body is a confused mess of numb fatigue and awakening sensations. You are in a pristine island above the clouds; you are accomplished. It is no easy task to go from drooling over a picture to standing on the summit of your dream peak. Yet, it is done, and by more and more people every decade. The mountains have an appeal that cannot be easily explained, and for years humans have ventured outside of their comfort zones to wander them.
As a climber, hiker, endurance runner, and lover of anything and everything outdoors, it is no surprise that I am slightly obsessed with mountains. I spend a good portion of my time-- both awake and asleep-- dreaming about epic alpine mountain summits all over the world. There is something beautifully poetic in enduring frostbitten appendages and sore muscles in order to accomplish such a goal; to become remote and vulnerable, teetering on the precipice of every human emotion. My mind is in a whirl of possibilities just writing about it… and I know that I am not the only one! From Alaska to the Himalayas, there is no shortage of adventures to be had.
On that note, there is also no shortage of adventurers who are willing to pay the price to climb these beautiful parcels of land. So many, in fact, that mountain destinations like Mount Everest in the Himalayas are experiencing massive influxes in human traffic in the form of mountain tourism. From 1988-1994 alone, the annual number of visitors into Everest and the surrounding park increased by about 155%, and that figure is still growing-- and it is becoming a problem.
Wait a minute-- why is that bad? You may be asking why I am suggesting that you should reconsider that trip to Everest after that juicy description of how wonderful it is to summit a mountain. Anyways, this is mountain tourism we are talking about-- outdoorsmen (and women) like us care about the environment and culture; we are a group of environmental stewards and travelers who thrive on the mountain experience. However, evidence shows that the “leave no trace” principles we hold near and dear to our hearts are not applied to some mountaineering and trekking expeditions in the Himalayas; and this is causing some major issues.
This blog is about adventure, the outdoors, and their corresponding hobbies. But what happens when these things conflict with the very platform that they rely on? The environment is an essential part of life for obvious reasons-- and anyone who spends much of their time in nature understands the importance of its protection not only for economic purposes, but also aesthetic purposes. Nature is a place of healing on many levels, and its health is of utmost importance. For my first blog post, I think it is important to introduce the relationship between the environment and the hobbies that take place in it that we all love. The preservation of natural areas should be second-nature for those involved in outdoor recreation; this is the case for many, thanks to organizations like Leave No Trace and simply following environmental ethics. However, issues remain still, hence this extensive look at one of the many environmental problems in the Himalayan region due to outdoor tourism. There is a lot to talk about, but for the purpose of this post, I want to talk trash.
In Nepalese trekking and expedition areas, the presence of waste is particularly high. Since the number of tourists, trekkers and mountaineers is increasing rapidly, a huge amount of human-induced pollution and solid waste is being deposited in these ecologically sensitive areas. This trash accumulation is exacerbated in part by the expenses associated with waste management-- but lets be honest, it is absurd to ask that elaborate waste management facilities be established in an area deemed remote, alpine and wild. If an area is not capable of supporting the waste of thousands of tourists, it is the individual’s duty to manage their own waste, not only for ethical reasons, but for lack of a better option. Being in an alpine environment, there are simply no realistic options for transporting the waste deposited by visitors; recycling and “pack in pack out” ethics depend heavily on the voluntary behavior of the visitor.
I find it interesting that so many mountain tourists--people who supposedly care about the outdoor environment-- are so utterly unaware of their trash impacts. In an article from Journal of Sustainable Tourism, Kuniyal notes that “the visitors traveling in topographically fragile and ecologically highly sensitive areas continue to establish only a one-sided relation with nature. The untreated waste alongside the trails only occurs due to the negligence of visitors and the lack of awareness of host communities.” Take note that waste is more than just an eyesore; humans and their environment interact more than most humans care to acknowledge. The build-up of trash has negative connotations for the Nepalese people living in the area. Pollution is still pollution regardless of its location, and it is still harmful. Contamination left behind by visitors does not go away, it is left for the local people to deal with. It is upsetting to know that “leave no trace” ethics seem to go out the window for many in the international mountaineering setting, where the locals must suffer the consequences.
Indeed, the trash problem in the Himalayas is a complex issue that mountain tourists cannot take all the blame for. As is the case in nearly every environmental or social issue, there are many factors at play. I acknowledge the fact that I do not live anywhere near Everest, nor have I spent the past year researching the topic for a thesis paper. I by no means have all the information relevant to the issue permitting me to point fingers and draw conclusions. However, I recognize that there is a problem... and being that it involves fellow mountain dwellers, I encourage looking into it.
Exploring the mountains is a deeply personal experience, characterized by connecting to nature through pushing the body’s physical and mental limits. The mountains demand respect, and us humans need to oblige if we decide that it is our right to wander them. The relationship between mountain and man is delicate, and a certain level of awareness on our part is essential to the maintenance of this relationship; not only for the preservation of ecological processes, but for the well-being of the locals living in the area. As a fellow nature-lover and mountain athlete, I suggest pondering this notion before setting off on your next expedition or trip. Think of the implications of your presence and how it affects the local people. The mountains are calling; if we must go, let us go with these issues in mind. Let us go knowing what must be done as an individual in order to preserve the areas that we love.
Jefferies, Bruce. "Sagarmatha National Park: The Impact of Tourism in the Himalayas." AMBIO - A Journal of the Human Environment. 11.5 (n.d.): 274-81. Web.
Johnston, Barbara R., and Ted Edwards. "The Commodification of Mountaineering." Annals of Tourism Research 21.3 (1994): 459-78. Web.
Kuniyal, Jagdish C. "Solid Waste Management in the Himalayan Trails and Expedition Summits." Journal of Sustainable Tourism 13.4 (2005): 391-410. Web.
Nepal, Sanjay K. "Mountain Ecotourism and Sustainable Development."Mountain Research and Development 22.2 (2002): 104-09. Web.
Sundriyal, R. C., and S. C. Rai. "Tourism and Biodiversity Conservation: The Sikkim Himalaya." AMBIO - A Journal of the Human Environment. 26.4 (1997): 235. Web.