“Wilderness is not a luxury, but a necessity of the human spirit (Edward Abbey).”
Most spend lives caged in the artificial concrete and steel habitats of humanity. But instinctively, we crave a return to the source of our creation. Ecotourism venues bulge with urbanites fleeing en masse from the artificial spaces of anthropogenic construction.
As a small child, I remember lying outside on the lawn of my
South Florida home, framing windows with my small hands of a world without any human-made contaminants. In suburbia, this was no small feat. Blocking out the power lines that then stretched the length of every street, the asphalt grid of the roads and the cement block houses that appeared at predictable quarter-acre intervals as far as the eye could see, usually restricted the finger-shaped snapshots to expanses of sky and cloud with a carefully-selected canopy top of a favorite tree. Dade County
In adulthood, I continue the tradition. Now armed with a digital SLR and a variety of lenses, I can manipulate a view the outside world to create an unspoiled paradise in my imagination with photographs. I love to capture beautiful things, flowers, birds, vistas devoid of the human stain, frozen in the perfection of time and place. I cherish the images, the memories they hold and the beings within them, but I also realize my collection of wonders is but an illusion and my love of the two-dimensional flawlessness, a form of denial.
Next to the myriad shoreline birds, stately pelicans and diving terns inhabiting the salt pond is a town dump deliberately obscured from the reach of the camera lens. I once tested the pond water, and it came up positive for Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Poor birds, poor fish, poor invertebrates living in toxic sediment at the bottom of the pond and infected with the residues of man’s negligence. Who knows what toxic stew contaminates the fragile tissues of these beloved beings? How many fly away only to die quietly off at sea from a toxic meal of chemical and plastic?
I encounter a yellow-crowned night heron, roaming in a tidal marshland, oblivious to the destruction that will soon besiege her home when it is dredged and scraped clean of life to make a marina for the million-plus dollar yacht toys of the obscenely rich. What happens to the bird when the dredging machines arrive? Does she hunker down on her nest hoping the nightmare will pass? As the scooping bucket of the giant machine inches its way closer and closer, does she must make the impossible choice to leave her progeny and save herself?
In the snapshot, she is frozen in time, perfect for my delusion to remember a ideal, happy time when once an unspoiled spot of the Earth existed. Little bird fly free, away from harm. But there is nowhere else to go.
Here is a magnificent specimen of Conocarpus erectus or green buttonwood, growing on the edge of a natural channel. For hundreds of years, this venerable being has survived, growing on a substrate of solid limestone rock, buffeted by tides and storms, drought and flood. Like a salty old sailor with weathered and leathered skin, a story of tenacity is told in the twisted, stunted form, resilience against all odds, except one.
Shortly after the snapshot was taken, bulldozers came through and ripped clear, root from rock. Hundreds of years of determination, wiped out in a few hours. Now a condominium marks the spot where the ancient sentinel once stood. What did it feel? As primordial roots were pried loose from solid anchoring, did the tree resign itself to death? Or, as salt and sun hardened branches broke and crumpled under mechanical blades, did the tenacious tree cling, relentlessly to the last shreds of existence until the last connection to Earth was cut? Beauty shattered. To what purpose?
People see the water, the sky, a perfect expanse of verdant land, and they want to possess it, thinking possession will fuse them to the wonder of existence. But the act of possessing destroys the very object of desire.
The people who park their boats in the marina look out at a landscape they have no connection to other than complicity in the crime of its destruction. They will never know the heron or how she once stealthily made her way through tall grass, ambushing lizards and bugs.
The condominium owners will sit on their balconies, stare out at the view and be satisfied with their monetary achievement. But all their money cannot replace the carelessly discarded soul that once marked the boundary of “their” land. Paper money and paper deeds, secured by superior military acuity, trump thousands of years of evolution, of belonging.
Act I. It is enacted that all servants. . . which [sic] shall be imported into this country either by sea or by land, whether Negroes, Moors [Muslim North Africans], mulattoes or Indians who and whose parentage and native countries are not Christian at the time of their first purchase by some Christian. . . and all Indians, which shall be sold by our neighborign Indians, or any other trafficing with us for slaves, are hereby adjudged, deemed and taken to be slaves to all intents and purposes any law, usage, or custom to the contrary notwithstanding.
The Western notion of ownership is a genocidal crime against nature. The white man stole
North America from the Indians with guns and germs, then stole the land again from all its other rightful inhabitants, justifying the action with words on paper, ownership. Always, it comes back to words and dollar signs on paper, as worthless in nature as parched sand to a dying man in the desert. We contrive to steal whatever we want from countless, endless souls, who have no access to or interest in our meaningless paper justifications.
The Earth has been appropriated by virtue of an arbitrary system, created by humans. We earned it. We bought it. We own it, but what about the autonomous beings that do not consent to being owned? What does our ownership grant? Once we have driven the original inhabitants from the land, we end up with yet another human altered landscape, the very type from which we crave escape.
I keep my gems, my snapshots, remind myself of what is important and share them with others with a silent prayer the world will one day embrace the relevant too. I will continue to compose fragments of beauty and truth, living in denial and hope that one day external reality will match the images within the frames.