We Belong in Wild Places


photo by Shaw Leonard

I was raised in Burbank when the air was thick and the pastures were a distant memory. My father routinely took me to the “wild lands” surrounding the San Fernando Valley, expecially the Santa Monica Mountains. I discovered the marvels of geology at the top of a ridge with an ocean view, where my father showed me the fossils embedded in rocks we were sitting on and described the forces that created our perch. We discovered a mountain lion long after it had perceived us; the reality of a lion in our domain thrilled me then and now. My father showed me tadpoles in the creek and we visited them pond for a month observing the transformation to frog. I learned the value of patient observation.

So I was a city boy, but because I had access to natural landscapes (and a wonderful teacher), I became an armchair naturalist. I camped, fished, hiked, biked, and learned to marvel at the common and ordinary.

I have passed on my father’s gift to me by introducing my children to the natural world and I advocate for public access to that natural world so the same opportunity is not lost to others. Without the direct experience of nature one is a “tenant” on earth, without pride of ownership; a poor steward of our fragile home. So I will argue for the broadest possible public access to the Gaviota region, consistent with the preservation and restoration of our natural heritage. And there is the rub. 

We are part of nature. We belong in wild landscapes, be we change them. The vision of a static nature, pure in form, finished and complete, is a myth. We bring many of the trappings of society with us when we enter uncivilized landscapes. This is perceived as being negative, and it sometimes is. But, we can contribute to the preservation of nature through our understanding of the living earth, gained best from direct experience.

Citizens of our complex and increasingly crowded society are divorced from the natural processes that support them. It is quite possible to intellectually understand these forces. However, that understanding is incomplete without the imprint of direct experience. Appropriate public access provides the stage for this direct experience.

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  • Phil McKenna
    published this page in Blog 2015-03-15 21:38:47 -0700