Hiking in Shenandoah National Park, thirty years ago, we came upon a graduate student doing air quality testing. It was above a pristine valley that would soon become home to a new brewery. The testing was to establish air quality parameters so that future graduate students could gauge the degradation. That might be a cynical view of what was going on, but a fair assessment. Thirty years later we hike the same area and progress has shortened our focal point. Spring mountain clarity is gone, shrouding the growth curse that obviously is the cause.
The National Park System, as the Ken Burns film points out, “Is America’s greatest idea.” As amazing as these units are, as vital as their mission to protect, and as important it is to preserve them for future generations, the reality is clear. They are minute conservation islands surrounded by the stranglehold of development. They are pounded by impact until frayed, cracked and breached.
“The Times They Are a Changing.” Dylan had it right, but I guess times are constantly changing. I’m thinking my perspective is heavily influenced by my old age. I have so much history stored up in my hard drive I’m beginning to assimilate truth from fiction much more efficiently than I did in my younger years. After Howard Zinn so eloquently portrayed the truth in The People’s History of the United States, I now question everything I was ever taught in school. I’m beginning to think that daydreaming through most of high school might have saved me from a tremendous amount of brainwashing.
From a environmental, social or economic standpoint it always boils down to my simple little equation: multiple numbers/divide resources. Until the lemming population crashes, the little rodent hordes devour everything in sight; almost as devastating as a swarm of locust. The ever growing, exponential human population is the global lemming.
I am a destructive little lemming. I’ve contributed to peak oil, global warming, poor air quality and depleted fresh water supply just by driving down to the jiffy store for a six pack.
They say you can run, but you cannot hide. I’ve spent much of my life running. I have been aware of the impact since my teens and have spent a lifetime looking for wild places to hike and explore. But even these reaches have now been over-trodden by numerous people just like me--looking for the scraps of wilderness that still exist in some diluted form. Are these sacred places that should be off-limits? I realize I am part of the problem, not part of the solution. Should I feel guilty hiking deep into these sanctuaries? Should I give up driving, drinking beer and having babies? I don’t think that will have much impact as I race ahead of the lemming horde, stampeding close behind me. I am willing to stop having babies, but driving, drinking and hiking into every wild corner I can find will most likely fill out my life’s daily planner.
I have no solution for over population. Like the country western song says, “Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” I’m runnin’ as fast as I can, trying to stay ahead of the lemming stampede, but, I am aware that up ahead of me somewhere is the proverbial cliff.