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why the environment ?

This question was posed to me last winter by a 40 year film-maker who was interested in doing a t.v. series called Suitcase on the Loose, about me basically doing my thing, being a freefloating consciousness who travels around the world and celebrates its natural and cultural riches and exposes the bad actors who are destroying it and jams with the locals and picks up new versions of the Wail, the cry of our aloneness and spiritual, sexual, and romantic longing that is found in all the world’s music. The film-maker happened to come up from New York on the two coldest days of the winter, when it was 25 below and really humid, as Montreal winters are, and the snot froze in your nostrils within seconds of stepping outside. So there no chance of getting any outside footage for the two-minute pilot he was planning to make. Things, it has often been my experience,  happen for a reason that you only realize later, and the reason the film-maker shoot was sabotaged by the weather was that he wasn’t the person for the mission,  not anybody the Suitcase was going to be able to work with or would want to have following him around with a camera or being stuck in some remote spot for days with. He didn’t get it, how serious the problems are, that we and every living thing are in deep trouble at this juncture. The way he posed the question, why the environment ? was so clueness and unfeeling that I was at a loss for words. He was one of the “new shallow,” as a friend my age calls a sizeable percentage of today’s young adults.

Finally, I stammered, “Well for one thing, 30 percent of the remaining species on the planet aren’t going to be here in a few decades.” And the guy started to giggle uncontrollably as the camera rolled. When he saw that he was filming me glaring at him– unusable footage, he stopped and said apologetically, “I’m sorry I was thinking of something else.” The poor man’s marriage with his gorgeous much younger Russian wife and they had just had a kid, so he was splitting up inside, and I was becoming increasing truculent and sullen and turned off, so the whole thing was a bust.

Why the environment ? is not a question that anybody would think of asking on Mount Desert Island, Maine, where I spent a fortnight this summer. The island is so magical, such a beautiful and harmonious marriage between the forest and the sea, fog and naked glacier-sculpted rock, so sublime as the Transcendalists would have said and probably did, that anyone who is lucky enough to live there even seasonally cannot help but worship at the altar of nature, which is why the conservation ethic, the old east coast patrician WASP ethos of stewardship and service is still going strong, which is why I was there, what my story was focusing on.

One morning, before a meeting with one of the major players in the effort to preserve the stunning outlying islands, I was drinking coffee in livingroom of the lovely house in Seal Harbor we had taken for a week, and leafing through a coffee table book that was on the coffee table. It was called Acadia : the Soul of a National Park, and the author, Steve Perrin, it was clear after a few paragraphs, definitely got it. In fact I wrote down some of his reflections, which I now realize answer the film-maker’s question :

“Like spruce trees and red squirrels, we humans cannot help ourselves; we are part of nature, Earthlings through and through. We share the air that other Earthlings breathe, the water that other Earthlings drink, the stored sunlight that other Earthlings eat. We are conceived and born like other Earthlings, and die like them as well. Our every thought is a natural thought, every dream a natural dream, every act a natural act. [Even serial sex murder and bdsm ?] We are incapable of stepping beyond of natural bounds, or being untrue to nature in any way. Our station is neither above or below our peers in any way; we are with them, our fellow passengers on planet Earth. In various forms we have been with them since the beginning. Changing with the times, we will ride with them to the end.

“And yet we feel estranged from nature as if we were separated from it by an unbridgeable gulf… once blessed with natural grace… we live vicariously through plots and scenarios created to divert us… Money and the economy intercede between us and the home planet… noise, Samuel Johnson’s ‘busy hum of men’ [assails our ears incessantly] …. The remedy is silence.” And silence, Perrin writes, is Acadia’s greatest asset–  “the silence of still ponds and granite ledges… wintergreen and kinnikinnick… Acadia releases us to be our natural selves… We are the current bearers of the spark ignited 15 billion years ago when the universe burst into the here and now.. can we possibly believe that we carry that spark in order to amass as much wealth as we can, or to take advantage of our gullible brothers and sisters ?”

Why couldn’t I have answered the film-maker with such eloquence ? Proof in point that the environment is important. We need nature to inspire us.