sometimes I wish I could be content
with a house, a cat, and a television.
that's the easy way out
but there are certain things that cannot be unseen
ideas that cannot be unlearned
dreams that cannot be unwoven
a path that I cannot retrace
and there is no venturing from it
there may be game trails that wander here and there
detours that are worth the walk
but I am bound to return
and so I sit in front of the screen
pretend to be spending time with family
while they spend time with the news anchor
and I’m gazing out the window
spending time with no one
not even the trees
BAD AT COOKING
no filling, too much burnt crust
money flows, income accumulates
and so does environmental impact
but no soul is trickling in here
the drip drip drip from the spirit faucet
has gone and run off with the circus
because sacred plumbing seeks the hearts of misfits
and dreamers and dancers and the fairy who throws the finger
at anything in her way
because fuck this kitchen
where we gather in vain
everything that will break us apart into dust
and sweep away all the magic
Fuck the broom
the hand sanitizer
and stop burning your cookies.
I took a good hard look at the jelly donut in my hand
and squeezed it like my life depended on it
I let the red fruit gush from between my fingers and ooze down my arm
I let it drip and fall apart
and I spread it all over my body
covered in sticky purple, giddy
I rubbed the dough, disassembled and crumbling
between my knuckles
between my legs
I smeared the sweet center across my face
into my ears
I slapped it across my lover’s face and said
I shoveled it onto a page and made it into a masterpiece
swirled it around and around and said
this is poetry
this is my blood and bones and heart and soul
and you better fucking taste it
and rip your own cheese danish from your belly
from the soles of your feet
squeeze the very cream from your being
birth the filling
rub it between your toes
destroy it beyond recognition
splatter it across the walls
and toss it into the world
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.
I'm not very old, nor am I all that experienced. I am not a wise old woman with the grand perspective of age. However, I am waist-deep in one of the most slap-in-the-face, learn-it-the-hard-way, and transformational stages in growing up (since let’s face it, nobody's ever done with “growing up”). Being 20 years old for me means trying to figure out what I want to do for a living, deciding that I never actually want to work ever, realizing that I have no money and actually want to work a lot, balancing this work with school and play, deciding that I need to drop out of college, realizing that I love learning and actually want to stay in college forever, having weekly identity crises, thinking that I somehow need to prove myself, feeling like I have nothing to offer the world (and then feeling like I am the best later that same day), and trying to single-handedly take on the world’s environmental and social issues.
Sometimes, I feel like a mess, with all of this bouncing around in my brain-piece. I often feel overwhelmed with all of the tasks I need to complete, and all of the wonderful things the world has to offer. My brain says, “Why can’t I fix everything RIGHT NOW? Why don’t I have the time to climb EVERYTHING and visit EVERY SINGLE COUNTRY and master EVERY skill EVER?!” Well, it simply cannot be done-- not all at once, at least. As time goes on and my experience grows, I am becoming more and more aware of an omnipresent aspect of life and nearly all challenges that we face as humans: the need to break it down. We are not sharks that can eat our meal whole; we take bites, and then chew those bites into even smaller pieces until they are so small that they can be swallowed. The answer is simple, yet difficult to implement: I need to take on life in chunks.
A few weeks ago, I truly realized how present this concept is, regardless of the situation. My good friend and climbing partner Laura and I climbed a route called “Cloud Tower” in Red Rocks, Nevada. Red Rocks is a rock climbing mecca of sorts, with towering cliffs covered with climbs as high as 2,000 feet. Cloud Tower was a 6-pitch, 800-foot climb of a difficult grade. I knew before we even left camp that morning that I was going to be climbing at my mental and physical limit, but the “Laura and Jacky” team is a competent, excited duo, even on scary multi-pitch. We love that stuff. We drove to the trailhead, and hiked to the base of the climb.
We spent the entire day climbing. Each pitch was a challenge in its own way, a chunk to overcome. . As the day progressed, we were pushed in many different ways. Each of us ended up crying at some point during the climb; whether it was related to the runout sections, the exposure, the janky fixed piece, or some other deeply rooted issue, there came a point when we simply had to break down, if even for a half minute. The climb was definitely within our abilities, but it was a journey to get through it.
Finally, we reached the top of the last pitch-- and I was beat. Totally wrecked. This is when I realized the importance of breaking it down in this particular situation. Hours of the day were spent waiting at belay stations for the parties ahead of us to finish climbing-- a delay that cost us the privilege of descending in daylight. As we rigged up for the first rappel to descend the climb, dusk was approaching.
Thus began the next chunk. We put on our headlamps and began the rappel. Kicking myself, I realized that I had forgotten to change the batteries in my headlamp, and was forced to rely heavily on Laura’s beam to supplement my weak glow. I then realized that I had also forgotten my prusik loop used to back up my rappel, forcing me to makeshift one with a cordelette. I was frustrated. We had 6 rappels ahead (6 more than I would have liked considering it was dark). As we came to the end of our ropes on the 3rd rappel, we landed on a ledge where there was supposed to be anchors, but none were to be found.
Thus began the next chunk. While Laura pulled the rope, I desperately looked for any sign of anchor. With no luck, we were forced to makeshift our own… on a small bush-like “tree.” Leaving a sling and carabiner behind, we tentatively rappelled from the vegetation onto the next ledge.
Thus began the next chunk. Not knowing (still) where the next anchors were, we explored the new ledge. After this short detour, Laura managed to discover that on the far side of the bushy ledge where we stood was the pitch 3 belay station. We scrambled over, and continued the descent. As we pulled the rope for the penultimate rappel, we looked at each other in disbelief as the rope would not budge; the rope was stuck.
Thus began the next chunk. Laura volunteered to ascend the rope (with a prusik and grigri...not easy or fun when ascending an entire pitch of climbing when it is past your bedtime). I felt useless at the anchor below. We were cold, and so hungry that we had no appetite. We were exhausted and, while staying positive, ready to be done with this climb. With the rope unstuck, laura made her way back down to the anchor where I waited. We finished the last rappel, and were finally at our packs at 9:30 pm. We packed up, and shared the food we had left: a handful each of sunflower seeds (mmmm dinner!). Relieved to be down, we thought nothing of what lied ahead.
Thus began the next chunk. We navigated steep, rocky downhill “trails.” We hiked for… one hour? Two? We walked and walked, towards the parking lot. Climbers trail to side trail to main trail, we finally arrived at the parking lot. All that was left now was the drive back to camp.
We arrived at camp at 11:00 PM. I would have went to bed without eating, if not for my campmates staying up to save us dinner.
There is no denying that the climb was simply phenomenal. Splitter crack climbing, incredible views, Little Mermaid songs, and heartfelt conversations. I would even argue that the scary, “type II fun” aspects were just as amazing as the more aesthetic parts. However, the challenge required baby steps. Without really knowing it, my brain forced each part of the day into said chunks. If I were to, in those moments of fear and challenge, fully wrap my brain around the entirety of the day and what I was asking of my body and mind, I would have been instantly overwhelmed. I would have panicked. We took on each task individually; one at a time. Complete this, move on. Begin next task. Repeat. That is how you accomplish great things.
I have found that this is how I must move through life, not just climbing. Challenging runs, long essays, and works of art all require the person’s attention to focus in on one single task at a time until the overall feat is completed.
In my studies, I like to look at the big picture with environmental issues. They are all connected and tangled and rooted in society; it is beautifully intertwined and mind-blowing, but overwhelming. I am constantly being bombarded with the “doom and gloom” of what humans have done to Earth and each other, and the relative compounded consequences. With so many problems, it is hard to focus on the small actions that make small, valuable change. Thus, quitting looks like an appealing option when one wants to take on everything at once. The issues all seem so big that ignoring them becomes the easy route, apathy the escape.
Many people tend to feel as though they are worthless if they are not saving the world. My blog isn’t transforming the lives of everyone?! Ah, It is not good enough. In reality, no one can save the world, and no one can fix everything. There is a passage in a book titled “Mutant Message Down Under” that speaks to this issue: “If you can only help one person, good job. Can only help one at a time anyway.” This simple but profound statement is a reminder to the granular nature of change and accomplishment. It is not a matter of flipping a switch-- it is a process, a journey, that must be broken down into smaller and smaller parts until it is a matter of taking one simple action, helping one single person.
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.
Friday, 6pm: I had just finished up my afternoon yoga class when I went downtown to meet up with my buddies on the patio of our favorite brewery. It was there that Eddie, who I had talked to in the past about my ultramarathon training endeavors, asked me to join him in running the Grand Canyon the next day. At first, I was doubtful and did not commit. I was not that far into my training and only logged up to 20 miles at a time on my long days, and I had no idea how my body would react to such steep terrain. However, I could not stop thinking about it...I had hiked the canyon several times, and had been dying to run it for a while. I couldn't just turn this opportunity down! I often try things way outside of my ability and-- well-- it doesn't always turn out successful, but at least I am used to it, right? After a beer and some pizza, I said yes. I knew that I was strong, and this would just be a test… what am I getting myself into?
“See you at 5am, Eddie.”
Saturday, 5am: Following a 4am wakeup call, I parked my car outside Eddie’s house, holding my pack, filled with 70 oz of water, a soggy panini, salt tablets and clif bars. We jumped into his truck and were canyon-bound on the highway, scenery slowly coming into view as the first morning light illuminated the passing trees.
We pulled into the Grand Canyon National Park two hours later, where we boarded a shuttle bus to the last stop: The Hermit Trailhead. We were expecting the run to be a fully difficult and tasking experience, especially considering this late in the spring temperatures were expected to be high. The morning was just starting to warm up when we began running down the trail. Chatting and making our way down the rocky switchbacks, we took in the exposed views from the Hermit trail, ending our downhill section where the hermit intersected with the Tonto trail. My feet were already hurting from the high-impact downhill, but there was no turning back, we were stoked! We stopped shortly to refuel and prepare for the long stretch ahead, which ended at Indian Gardens where our next water refill stop would be. Thus began the unexpected crux of the run: cranking up and down steep rolling hills in 100+ degree shadeless heat-- for 25 miles.
We were expecting the Tonto to be the “easy” section of the run; since it hugged the tonto plateau, it seemed that it would be relatively flat at sustained, so we did not worry about it at all. What we did not expect, however, was the nonexistent water sources combined with the blazing, relentless heat. In fact, no part of the Tonto trail was easy. It was a primitive, unmaintained trail that recieved little traffic. The only people we passed were backpackers, who undoubtedly thought we were crazy for traveling with nothing more than our running packs and minimalist shoes. The trail was technical, and the sun was inescapable. It felt like the heat was boiling my brain, and I was slowing up with every mile. We sought refuge under a large boulder, where there was a patch of shade about 2 feet wide and 4 feet long. As we nibbled on squashed paninis and sipped water, little did we know that this would be the last shade encountered for the rest of the Tonto stretch.
The trail travels up and down creek drainages, zigzagging around what Eddie and I deemed “alligators:” the protruding formations that we dreaded due to their sneaky nature. Every time we approached one, we could not see beyond it-- we only hoped that it would be the last one. So we would turn south and push uphill until we came to the creek crossing, where we would once again switch directions and head north toward the next precipice. Hopefully approaching the bend, expecting to see flat terrain, we would turn the corner and instead look upon the next alligator. At this point we would repeat the process, over and over…
After a few hours, I noticed the lightness of my pack-- not good, when that weight came from water, and the only other water in our vicinity was running down questionable creeks. Not good. My fears came into reality when it finally happened: Trying to take a sip from the camelbak hose, and getting nothing. We ran out of water. We did not know how far we had gone, or how many more miles until we would reach Indian Garden. The sun was hot, and our thirst was yet to be quenched. We continued to run, until Eddie became dizzy and was forced to stop and rest. Things were serious: we had no water, and my running partner was fading fast. I considered leaving him there to run to the gardens myself to bring water back, but quickly realized the dangers with that plan. I wasn't doing too hot either, and who knows how far that would be! We needed to stay together, and we needed to get to water. So, after the break, we kept running. The next hour or two went like so: run run run, stop, rest, hope, run run run, stop, hope, run, hope, run, hope, run run run...
Finally, we came around the the final alligator. Turning the corner, we saw the lush greenery of Indian Gardens in the distance. We could see it! We were in reach! The two of us nearly cried as we used this excitement to propel ourselves down the last mile to the oasis. We passed more and more people who had day packs and still smelled alright-- a sure sign that we were close, being that few take the Tonto more than a couple hundred yards unless they are backpackers. I ran ahead of Eddie and reached the stream before the water refill station, where I immediately submerged my entire head in the shallow cool water, giggling in relief. I looked up and saw my partner approaching, laughing as well. Together, we threw ourselves at the refill station, where we inhaled the water out of our camelbacks just as fast as they were being filled. After drinking at least three litres of water each, we promptly passed out on the benches of the crowded area. I must have napped for an hour, after which we ate the majority of our food and filled up on water one last time.
We still had to run up the last four miles of the Bright Angel Trail to reach the rim. We thought we would run it, at least. I soon realized the bad combination of running over a marathon in distance, while severely dehydrated, and napping immediately afterward: my legs had stopped working. It was such a strange sensation… running did not hurt necessarily, but it was as if my legs had forgotten how to do the motion. I have had dreams where I try to run but can only move in sinking slow-motion, where I almost cannot control my own body. The strange thing was that this was reality now. Fortunately, we had daylight left, and Eddie was happy to hike with me. There was no way I was running the last push.
As we hiked the Bright Angel, we talked and laughed and wondered. We were thankful for our bodies, for water, and for our lives. The Grand Canyon is a magical, beautiful place-- it is also a demanding place, just like any wild area. Yes, thousands of people walk her trails every year. However, there will never be a time that the canyon will be easy for me-- or anybody. There is always something special about going farther than you thought possible, and finding the necessary respect for these places. As Eddie and I reached the rim, we had undoubtedly gained a refreshed sense of respect for the canyon. We finished, drove back to Flagstaff, and pulled straight into our favorite indian food restaurant to stuff our faces with tiki masala and naan bread.
There is a beauty in this sort of suffering. Looking back, I would have done it all over again (maybe with a water purification system…). Our Grand Canyon run was hard, but it was perfect (it also ended with perfect Indian food, which is my favorite thing ever) because I bonded with a friend, and we pushed our limits. These are the sorts of adventures to be remembered, because people can always grow from these experiences. Also, let's face it: A little type II fun is good for the soul.
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.
It was the end of summer—August was upon my sixteen-year-old self and I had worked hard for the entirety of the months since school ended, training in preparation for this day. My mom sat in the dirt, shaded by our big white Chevy Suburban that we drove from Phoenix to Tucson that morning. It was sweltering, and she stared silently at the ground—dreading the race we were about to endure. The look on her face reminded me of when a small child, whose undeveloped mental filters produces the most honest of expressions, tastes an unwanted vegetable in their macaroni. She likes running, but not that much. I didn’t blame her for the bad mood; running uphill for 10 miles to the observatory on top of Kitts Peak in this heat seemed slightly less appealing than when our friend Rami first pitched the idea months ago, while winter was still chilling us to the bone. Now, we were melting in the kind of hot that sucks the energy right out of your body.
“Come on, Judy,” Rami jests, “you’re looking like a sourpuss!”
“I hate you,” my mom replies with a smirk.
Ten miles, I think, as we make out way to the start line. It is just like those hill workouts I did… but for twice the distance. No biggie. I cringe.
The gun fires, and we are off—a crowd of heads bouncing up the hill toward the observatory ten miles away.
After some time, the run took hold of me. I was finding my cadence, following the rhythm of my breath with each short footstrike. A man who appeared to be in his fifties ran up beside me. He had the kind of wrinkled face that I wish to have someday: skin aged by hours spent in the sun, eyes decorated with crows feet. We started making small talk, asking the usual questions about each other’s running history.
“Do you use those funny gel things?” He asked.
I felt my chocolate flavored energy shot for the halfway mark jiggling in my shorts pocket.
“Yes… What do you use?”
He laughed and replied “ah, I don't use anything, I have this fat to use up as energy,” as he patted his belly, giggling.
A few miles later, I was in dire need of much more than an energy shot. My body was protesting, as if to ask, who in their right mind would willingly run up a mountain? I must be insane. My motivator noticed that I was talking less and running slower; I noticed that he wasn’t kidding about his belly fat energy stores. That is old man strength for you: casually crushing teenagers on the hill runs using belly fat.
“You’re doing great,” Mr. Motivation encouraged me, “Just stay right up here with me. Steady your breathing, and try to maintain this pace.” I did my best to take his advice. “Relax your arms, pick up your feet. There you go—now don't slouch over like that. Find that rhythm again. Great, you have it. Just hold on to that.”
“Please, go on without me,” I said.
He looked at me. “Are you sure?”
We wished each other luck and Mr. Motivation took off, disappearing around a corner, not to be seen again. I slowed a bit, massaging a side cramp that had developed in my left abdomen. I looked up at the sky and thought, how am I going to finish this?
Five miles in, five to go. Just keep running, I think. Just keep running... The sun beat down on me, the blazing Arizona heat gripping on to every last second of daylight. I was toeing the edge of my perceived limit. My spirit broke. My confidence dwindled away. My Motivator was absent, leaving my dehydrated, discouraged body only half way up Kitts Peak with no catalyst encouraging me to run faster. The taunting afternoon sun dared me to give up and walk. Step after listless step, my mind was overtaken by the desire to be far from the pain that pulsed through my body.
Legs protesting, lungs reluctantly expanding, and four miles left. From somewhere deep inside my brain, a faint voice refused to cease its endless encouragement that broke through the exhaustion: Just keep running. Just keep running...
Discouragement was getting the best of me, but I put one foot in front of the other. The sun was becoming milder as dusk took hold of the sky, and I looked out upon the creosote bushes scattered along the mountainside. Their pungent scent, filled with the nostalgia of monsoon season in the desert, tickled my nose—as if the creosote were intentionally urging me along with a gentle reminder, a small caress of my past that had carried me to this moment. My senses roused to life. I could see the colorful expanse of valley below me, the patterns of vegetation presented in a lovely mosaic. The air was cooling quickly as the sun slowly creeped away behind the other side of the hill. In that moment, an overwhelming sense of connection swept over me; to the sun, the rocks and plants, and the runners who were journeying by my side with their own internal monologue.
Passion and drive suddenly replaced bodily discomfort, as if some unknown force was renewing my cramping limbs. Fueled with unexplainable surges of energy, the drumming of my feet increased in tempo. Each strike of my soles upon the ground lightened; I was shedding weight with every step. The heavy armor of self doubt cracked and crumbled with the beating of my feet, until it fell away—exposing a raw, true layer of myself.
As I rounded a curve in the summit-less hill, a delightful sunset greeted me. Its rays caressed my triumphant spirit as it surrendered into the horizon. I felt an immense sense of joy and love for everything around me, a feeling only acquired by pushing oneself to the ultimate. I smiled. I cried. I was in pain, but I loved it. My mind soaring, my body failing, I was reborn. I was freshly aware. I was strong. Just when I believed myself to be totally and irreversibly drained, I still had more to give; it was just a matter of being brave enough to dig it up.
Just keep running. Just keep running... The broken record blasted between my eardrums until the words were audible, vibrating through my larynx and puffing out between my lips with every breath. I summoned every ounce of energy in my being to push my legs up the last two miles of Kitt’s Peak. My internal transformation danced with the colors of the sky, and as the sun kissed me goodnight, they lingered for a moment before disappearing completely, leaving behind a blanket of stars.
As the challenge of putting one foot in front of the other ceased its iteration, I greeted the summit broken and beaming.
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.