Tuesday, February 17, 2009


The APLS carnival this month is about nature - my relationship to it and how it relates to sustainability. Nature has always played a large roll in my life in one way or another, but I've had a great deal of trouble writing this post. I'd start then erase it all and start again. So here we go again for one more try.

I grew up in the mountains of Colorado. My parents owned about six acres of land. The house was built into the side of a cliff and some of the walls inside were the actual cliff side. The surrounding landscape was not planted, but it was all natural woods. We didn't have the typical lawn, but instead we had natural meadows that had a profusion of wildflowers every spring. My backyard was a National Forest.

So I certainly grew up with nature. I loved being outside more than inside (except when Star Trek was on :>). In the afternoons I would take my dog and we would go running up the neighboring mountain. In the summer I would splash in the creek bed in the valley. As I grew older my outside time became more structured. I took up backpacking and helped start a backpacking club in my high school.

When I got married and moved to Boston suburbia, I was suffocated by all the houses around me (not to mention the trees here give you a closed in feeling, where Colorado's forests are very open). We finally moved to our current home that is half an acre and has a natural woods behind the house. We thought it would be a great place to bring up kids and it was. The kids were no longer stuck playing in little sandboxes, but got to dig earthen forts in the backyard. My garden switched from being a small 4'x12' raised bed to the 20'x20' plot I have now. There is a small little conservation area about a 1/3 of a mile from the house where I go for walks. The neighborhood is safe. It is not close to public transportation or major roads, so the only people that come here live here.

It was an idyllic place to bring up kids, but green it was not. Not being on public transportation has caused a lot of issues. I have biked to places from here, but its major flaw is that it is on the top of a large hill. It is OK if you are pedaling yourself up the hill, but as soon as you put a couple of gallons of milk and all the rest of the food for the week on the bike, it becomes really hard. It wasn't something I did for long. I still occasionally bike to Trader Joe's to buy things, but I can't do a real stocking up run without a car.

I think the love of nature often causes more problems to nature than it solves. Though I'm inside the 128 belt in Boston, many people that love nature like me choose to live farther out. This means longer car trips, tearing down more trees for homes in the wild, building more roads. So many people want that second home in the mountains, on the lake or in the woods. They put in lawns even in the wilderness then fertilize them and cause runoff pollution. People seem to love their nature, but then have an absurd desire to tame it.

I often see people that claim to love nature yet don't tread very lightly. Backpackers use up wood in the wilderness that is important to the ecosystem. I've seen people that blithely go off path and walk on desert soil crusts. I've seen people stand up on coral. Most of these people are not trying to be bad. They are there because they love the woods, the desert or the reef. They are merely uneducated about the harm they are doing.

Loving nature isn't always bad though. There are those who love nature and become protective of it, instead of just using it. These activists (like John Muir and Howard Zahniser) have protected many beautiful places so that our children and their children will still have real wilderness to see and explore.


  1. I think the most disturbing thing is hiking through a nature preserve on a long weekend and seeing all the garbage that people drop well they hike. Would it kill them to carry the empty water bottle with them and then recycle it? Drives me nuts!

  2. This is a most thought-provoking post, Daphne. A lot of people just don't know how to go about walking softly in nature, not to pick the wildflowers in a park or throw their trash around (well, okay, they oughta know better than that last). But yes, there are some good nature activists and even those of us who simply live in conjunction with the natural world as much as possible.

  3. Oh, don't remind me how angry I get! I'm afraid there's no way to enforce intelligent behavior... all we can do it hope to get enough nature preserves and forest preserves so that the damage isn't everywhere...

  4. Hi Daphne. Very nice post, you painted a great picture of where you spent your childhood. It seems we may have a fair bit in common regarding the environment we were brought up in:


    PS. I am also a huge Star Trek fan - have you seen the new movie yet?


  5. Dan, it drives me nuts too. Those are people that just have no respect for nature. I just don't understand why people like that are there in the first place.

    jodi, I think people need to be educated more on such things, but then who is going to do it and how far? I really don't think most people need to learn not to walk on desert crusts. Most people will never see any. But I'm really shocked that snorkeling tour operators don't educate their guests on how not to harm the coral. Some do, some don't. I still remember giving a lecture on the dos and don'ts when I was a trip leader on a rafting trip.

    Pam, I also think we need to do a better job of education. Though admittedly some places really try and the idiots ignore them. I was at Yosemite about a year and a half ago, and people just won't believe that a bear can smell the food in your car and rip it open. They can. They do. They have all sorts of mutilated metal on display to prove it. They provide bear boxes to store your things in. And yet people still get their cars torn up because they leave food in them. It really baffles me. But then my mom wanted to leave her pepsi cans in the car and I wouldn't let her. She is a pretty bright lady, but she is used to her Colorado mountain bears and they are much less domesticated.

    ESP, nope I haven't seen the movie yet. I'm sure I will. I don't think it comes out until May. I love where you grew up. That is so cool. It is a little similar, but the Colorado mountains aren't really spooky. They are mostly arid and open. Unless you go into the mines of course - which I did as a kid. They were lots of fun to explore - bats, collapsed tunnels, old equipment and the like. Now they are all closed up. The forest service decided they were dangerous and put gates on them all. Sigh.

  6. "I think the love of nature often causes more problems to nature than it solves". Hear hear! Your post sets up so much of what I struggle with daily. I live in a very densely populated area. I yearn for that larger plot of land on which to garden and raise chickens. I dream of wooded fringes where my boys could roam, climb trees, build forts, watch small creatures. My parents recently relocated to a more country setting and I feel so at peace when we visit. I always talk about moving there. But how can I give up my farmers markets (several of which go year round), being able to walk or bike to town, the ability to take the train up to the city, and the schools kept afloat by the sheer number of us working to keep it that way. Thanks for this post.

  7. Your post came at a good time for me. We are contemplating moving and one decision is whether we go into the city (urban but access to public transportation) or out into the country (wild but no public transportation). Thanks for giving me fodder to chew on as we talk about our options.