In a simpler time, over thirty years ago, David Brower, then Executive Director of the Sierra Club, published an anthem of young discovery in the wilderness of the West: On the Loose, by Terry and Renny Russell. Mom bought me a copy.
It had beautiful photographs and was full of poetry. It sang the song of Triumph, a love discovered among the peaks of the High Sierra. It lamented a Tragedy, a love lost in Glen Canyon, submerged beneath Lake Powell. I spent endless hours, poring through the pictures, recognizing some of the very perspectives I had enjoyed on many a solo trek through Point Reyes National Seashore. The Forward section of the book comprised of a poem regaling the risks and travails to be found in the process; i.e., nobody would do anything that hard unless it was love.
This is a personal response:
Landowner On the Loose!!!
Have you ever pulled poison oak out of trees to stop it from killing them only to make trips to the hospital until you had an immunity?
Have you ever managed 10 acres of French Broom for 10 years, even though 3 of those acres are not yours?
Have you ever taken the risk of submitting your carefully developed, but hastily written, weed control program to a hostile ecological group for peer review, only to find out that good scientists have to speak in whispers over lunch, because they are so afraid to lose grant money that their agreement with the truth of the data canít be published?
Have you ever had your life threatened for pulling thistles along a road?
Have you ever given away 75 cords of cut firewood so that it wouldnít rot?
Have you ever lugged and hand set 200 tons of rock and mortar to reverse preexisting drainage problems, only to find that you have 20% bone loss from the sweating?
Have you ever tried to set erosion control tarps on a 40į slope, 100 feet above rocks, in the rain?
Have you ever swung around on a 90-foot tree that you topped just because you didnít want to hit anything with it? When it was less than a foot in diameter at the bottom? How did you feel when you dropped the rest of it and found out that it was rotten half way up the middle? What did your spouseís face look like when you tried to explain to her why it was necessary?
Have you ever found yourself 125 feet up a tree for the second time on the same day to bend it out of the way so that it wouldnít get hurt?
Have you ever dropped a dead 60-foot tall tree on a 60į slope just to keep it from tearing out a chunk of dirt and had to jump down a small cliff so that you wouldnít be sucked into the branches as it slid down the hill?
Have you ever had to run down said 60į slope for a hundred yards at full tilt through a slash of trunks and branches without your glasses because there were yellow jackets in your face and stinging you in the ass?
Have you ever dug out a five-foot diameter stump by hand, chopping out the roots with an ax, when the top of it was two feet under an old slide?
Have you ever had to cut up a slash, bridging across a 30-foot deep gully?
Have you ever worked bent over in a ravine with a cliff at the bottom and a mountain lion 30 feet above and behind you, seemingly oblivious to the chainsaw noise? Did you feel like food?
Have you ever cut and chopped up a two-acre firebomb of scraggly 20-90-foot-tall bay trees set 4-6 feet apart? How long could you keep going before the aromatic solvents closed your sinuses and burned your mucosa from your mouth into your lungs? Did you enjoy the sleepless nights of wheezing and sneezing until you were bleeding?
Six days in a row?
Have you ever watched thousands of dollars worth of timber rot because it was illegal to sell? Did you pay to mill it and then just give it away so that it wouldnít go to waste?
Have you ever taught a six-year old to do a three variable, extreme vertex designed experiment to propagate a native wildflower?
Have you ever inhaled toxic smoke fumes for days on end while you cleared a critical fire hazard?
Have you ever worked 90-hour weeks in a smoky, oily, disgusting, corporate hell to pay for it all?
Have you ever put your job and your childrenís livelihood at risk, to force a corporate vice president to get an environmental permit, in the middle of a recession with a new house under construction and a baby on the way; when that chemical plant had previously received 43 Notices of Violation?
After you got the job, with 400 applicants competing for your position?
Have you ever bet your lifeís fortune to commit yourself, full-time, to your dream of saving the habitat you had loved as a child, by fostering an ethic of active harmony among people and the land, in such a way that both might prosper, with the full expectation that you will become a target for having the temerity to tell the truth?
Have you ever had people who said they care about nature, publicly inculcate lies about you, and speak them to your face as intimidation by slander?
Thank you, Mr. Russell, but this isnít about being On the Loose in the wilderness. It is one thing to fall in love, it is another to get married. This isnít The Wilderness, it's an Intensive Care Unit.
It is about identifying that latest weed before it gets loose. Itís about dealing with acres of broom, acacia, bullthistle, eucalyptus, pampas grass, barnyard grass, joint grass, medusa head, hemlock, hairy catís ear, and annual rye grasses, and star thistle. Itís about identifying the botanical names of groundcovers so that the propagation experiments have validity. Itís about researching which cultivars of natives are OK on the fringes of the wild and which are not and then teaching the public authorities the information because the stuff they publish to homeowners is wrong. Itís about rousing the government into realizing that while they are busy restricting things, they are doing nothing to help. Worse, they are spreading the weeds and penalizing citizens who do the hard work that they say that they want.
Itís about thinning a forest, planning three cuts in advance, not only to reduce a fuel load but to reduce blight diseases, establish an uneven age distribution of healthier trees, and remove certain natives because they represent an artifact of fire suppression. It has to be done carefully. It costs a lot, even if you do it yourself. Most of the time, there are no authorities to ask how best to do it and serious reason not to trust those who claim to know.
Itís about doing your best to get it done, knowing that the one entity, irresponsibly charged with the job of making sure people take care of it, is dead set against you: your government, acting in violation of property rights, supposedly guaranteed under the Constitution. It's about knowing that one day, after all that work, sweat, risk, and money, your love may be taken from you by a civil servants who will leave it to fester or (worse) hold it hostage, demanding ever more tax money to fix problems caused with their complicit (or wilful) incompetence.
So, how do we make the best of what "Itís about"?
Natural Process: That Environmental Laws May Serve the Laws of Nature, ISBN: 0-9711793-0-1. Copyrights © 1999, 2000, & 2001 by Mark Edward Vande Pol. All rights reserved.