Paradigms

Yesterday we were on the Icefields Parkway in our rented and ironically named Ford Escape (ironic, to me, because it felt like I was in a cage.) Being a young, virile, twentysomething man, it’s hard to drive through mountains without wanting to be at the top of them. As it was getting dark we passed by a spot where, high in one mountain there was a flickering light, as of a campfire. I was so jealous of whoever it was that was up there.

Today my family and I reentered Jasper National Park to do some more sightseeing. As the day progressed, my spirits got damper and damper. It all struck me as so pointless and frustrating. The way I see it, with the advent of automobiles and cheap gas we have become accustomed to seeing huge swaths of nature. Previously inaccesible places are now easy to see in a short weekend or even on day trips. The resulting consumerist attitude towards nature leads people to flock to various places to see only “the biggest” this or “the tallest” that. On the road, multiple cars would be stopped wherever there was a stray goat or deer that had ventured out far enough to be taken pictures of. It seems sad that we, in the middle of thousands of square miles of wilderness, would fawn over what seems like the scraps of wildlife that are convenient enough to see without leaving the comfort of our vehicles… What are we looking for when we go out in this manner? I think it’s safe to say (at least it is true for me) that these encounters with the “wilderness” leave most of us unsatisfied. Today my aunt encapsulated it when, at a part of the Maligne Canyon she pointed and said “Well, here is where water flows”, in that mocking singsong voice (with which she later said “Been there, done that” of a bird pond in some small town southwest of where we’d been earlier). When we go out, away from our cities and suburbs, as “wilderness junkies”, only to drive somewhere, and take photos and gather souvenirs so that we can come back and report that we’ve been to such-and-such a place, and are in fact able to appreciate “wild things”, how often do we really connect and interact with our destinations?

I can imagine that there are countless people who have been to Yosemite or Banff and Jasper National Parks and yet cannot name a tree in their backyard, or a bird or blossom that heralds the coming of Spring in their hometown. Why? What’s wrong with this picture.

It no longer surprises me that children have to be dragged out into nature (as I once was). Parents fail to instill a sense of awe and respect, treating nature as another way to entertain ourselves, and expect these shallow experiences to enthrall their kids. My theory is that children, who are normally more full of vitality and real curiousity than their parents are, see right through this sham which we call “adventure”, and is more akin to going out to watch a really boring movie.

Then you take a guy like Thoreau, who spent a couple of years living next to an unassuming pond, and was able to inspire generations of future naturalists with his ardour and love for the place. Or Larry, one of Jerry’s neighbors (a logworker who designed Jerry’s log house and chose the tree trunks himself), who built a cabin on his trapline up in the woods. He made the trail to the cabin himself. That is, he got up one morning and said to himself “Hmmm, I want to be at THIS point in the wilderness, but there’s not trail…” and then proceeded to grab his chainsaw and cut one himself.

Though the Maligne Canyon is a really beautiful place, I doubt I will ever be able to appreciate it in the same way, or to the same depth as I can the slow moving, and less frequented Peace River, where I personally dipped a paddle into the Peace, and sat in a circle around a fire while a new acquaintance sang Irish Folk ditties as we all listened along.

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~ by justinhong on July 6, 2009.

One Response to “Paradigms”

  1. very true. a real connection to land, nature, and environment is difficult to cultivate. i just went to yosemite and i think i spent more time driving to/from yosemite each day from oakhurst and then riding the oh-so-convenient shuttles in the park than walking/looking around. it’s an interesting phenomenon…

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