Last autumn a well-known public radio personality was in Laramie giving a talk. I've heard him speak before in Wyoming, so I wasn't surprised when he made flattering remarks about the clean air and stunning mountain landscape. He said it the last time, too. This time he went even further, making a joke about how his urban existence is a pale, unhealthy comparison to the recreating lifestyle of the Mountain West. Everyone laughed and smiled knowingly. It was clear he had ingratiated himself into our hearts.
Afterward, Micah had a chance to chat with him. "You should come back and next time you can go for a hike!"
"Yeah, I don't know about that," he said, shutting Micah down.
I've been thinking about this exchange a lot lately. Did he say those things so he could dupe us into liking him? Or does he really believe them but resigns nature to some far off place where his black dress shoe clad feet will never tread? Either way, it's hard for me not to feel discouraged. Do you have to live in the mountains to know they are sacred? Do you have to farm the land to know the health of the soil is directly connected to the health of humanity? And do you have to be a Native American to feel the impact of the Dakota Access Pipeline?
I'm surrounded in Laramie by scientists: geologists, paleontologists, volcanologists, agronomists, and the lists goes on. You can't throw a rock around here and not hit someone who can tell you troubling scientific facts about the future of our environment. At a concert last week the young man standing next to me, a University of Wyoming student, gave me a primer on a whole host of environmental problems while we waited for Sierra Hull to take the stage. He had an ambitious career all mapped out involving the reclamation of lands. Now he wonders if his career will exist when he graduates in two years. These are the sort of conversations that make it difficult to have a good time, even when Sierra Hull sings a rendition of Prince's 1999.
Last summer while on a hike with my aunt, uncle, and cousins, my uncle Kris declared, "I can't remember the last time I saw this many butterflies." He told us the eery and disturbing disappearance of butterflies where he lives in Omaha, Nebraska. "When I was a kid they were everywhere. Now I rarely see them. I don't know why that is." A few months later I read an essay by Barbara Kingsolver from her book Small Wonder in which she explains how the pesticides we use kill butterflies. Actually, there was a gruesome description that involved them literally blowing up after ingesting the pesticides. I asked a scientist friend and she said that we are undergoing a frightening loss of all our pollinators. And I wonder, what will become of our world when all the butterflies go missing?
I send my postcards to legislators. I write my e-mails. I even work up the courage to make phone calls (this being a small but mighty act for a raging introvert). And I hope against hope that all people, regardless of our proximity to mountains and farmland and reservations, will fight for creation.