Photo by Saad Chaudhry on Unsplash

The Story Well

How the loss of Nature leaves our lives impoverished

“Everything is held together with stories.” — Barry Lopez

I’ve never been to the Arctic. Nowhere in the depths of my mind does a firsthand account of icebergs, polar bears, or the northern lights reside. I’ve never walked across the moss-covered tundra, under a sun that never sets, or watched a herd of thousands of caribou flow like a river to the endless horizon.

And in all likelihood…neither have you.

Photo by Joe Green on Unsplash

The fact is, the vast majority of people on this planet will never experience a day in the Arctic, or the Amazon, or any one of the other incredible, natural spaces remaining on this planet.

But that does not make a place unimportant. It doesn’t make it unworthy of protection.

If anything, it makes it more so.

“Out of sight, out of mind” we say, wishfully thinking that if we never see something it doesn’t affect us. But, outside of the obvious fact that the existence of the natural world is what makes our every breath and thought possible; our views and perceptions of the world around us are forever being shaped by places we’ve never seen.

Sounds odd, I know, but think of the greatest stories you’ve read or been told. Most likely they involve a place you’ve never seen and people you’ve never met, but in hearing those stories you become the protagonist. You experience what they did. How the land makes them feel, struggle, laugh, or cry.

The remote reaches of this globe are capable of arousing an endless array of feelings within us. They hold in their details, an entire spectrum of the rainbow of emotional possibilities that only they can produce. Good or bad, they contain colors and amplitudes we’ve never seen before, and to remove or destroy those landscapes and the creatures that call them home, is to remove or destroy emotions and experiences, the human world will never again know.

You may never see the Arctic, but someone will, and all of our lives will be richer for it.

Photo by Vincent Guth on Unsplash

When I read accounts of past explorers and species long extinct, I’m saddened to know that those experiences no longer exist. I cannot know what it was like to see the hulking shadow of a Steller’s Sea cow beneath the waves, or the sun swallowing flocks of passenger pigeons that once turned day into night. No matter how much I may try to seek them out, those emotions and experiences will never be felt again by myself, or anyone else.

Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

The more we destroy, the more unique habitat we pave over and peculiar species we shove aside, the lonelier we will be, and consequently, the more boring and endangered our own lives will become. Through the eradication of Nature, we rob ourselves and drastically reduce the spectrum of emotional possibilities that make life on this planet so incredibly unique.

I may never see a herd of musk oxen cross the tundra, followed closely by arctic wolves and the all-seeing gaze of the raven, but in this hyper-connected world, someone, indeed many people will; and that experience, those feeling of smallness, bewilderment, wonder and awe, will trickle down from the top of the world to every corner of the globe. Through story and art, they will color our existence in shades and hues that only the North knows.

Just like the waves that move across the oceans, it is not the water that travels, but the energy that pulses through it. Stories move through us, from one person to the next, taking on a life of their own as they travel the world. They can wrench us from our slumber, they can spur us into action, and I believe that the greatest stories and lessons find their roots in the wilderness. Untrammeled, undeveloped, “worthless” wilderness.

And we desperately need that perspective.

Photo by Mathyas Kurmann on Unsplash

As a species that’s never been satisfied with what was right in front of it, we burst outward from the African continent to ultimately cover the globe. We are driven to move. Drawn to foreign experiences. There is something itching in all of us that wants to break out and seek something new, but what happens when it no longer has the opportunity to do so?

We need the possibility of different experiences as much as we need air to breathe. The claustrophobia of lost opportunities, of an inescapable and monotonous existence, is too much for anyone to bear. We may never need to go see or experience a place ourselves, but to know that it is possible, is powerful.

History is bound to repeat itself, because the same forces of the mind that have brought about our current world, will always be at odds. Develope, or presere. Now, or later.

There will always be those of us who can come up with reasons to take more, to expand more, to justify the ravenous spread of humanity until there is nothing left. And it is a fact, that as generations tick by we become complacent with less Nature, because each successive generation has known no different world than the one they were born into, and they’re willing to compromise, allowing further use and destruction of it, for the sake of progress. It’s a vicious cycle that blindly and unknowingly causes natural world to disappear right before our eyes.

When will the last tree stand, and what pieces of it would we be willing to do without?

That may sound drastic to some, but it’s happening all around us.

Photo by Dave Herring on Unsplash

So, here’s my proposition. Draw the Line

We love to devise invisible borders, so let’s make a couple more. Draw the boundary of “no more” across the globe. Set half the earth aside, not to be touched or defiled. And once those lines are drawn and the boundaries are set, we can learn to work within them, to develop ways of living that honor them and make room for all forms of life. Like nature itself, we need to learn to dance within the limits of this planet, because whether all you’re able to see is empty tundra is irrelevant.

We need it.

Photo by Hans-Jurgen Mager on Unsplash

Thank you for reading through my rambling. Please feel free to comment with your thoughts. I’d love to hear what you think!

-Leif

--

--

--

Wildlife biologist turned writer. This is my library of ramblings on everything from conservation to noisy neighbors.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

My Partner Left Me While We Were Traveling in a Foreign Country

Peaceful Places to Read in 6 Busy Metropolises

Visa Run

The Emoji Story — from 🙁 to 😁

Chernobyl exclusion zone in Ukraine. How it looks today.

How To Decide To Row An Ocean

A trip during Covid Times

EXPLORE: FES MEDINA

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Leif Johnson

Leif Johnson

Wildlife biologist turned writer. This is my library of ramblings on everything from conservation to noisy neighbors.

More from Medium

Art & Activism: Learn about Israel-Palestine from Palestinian poet Amanee Izhaq

The Truth About Stories

To Thine Own Self Be True — SHORT STORY

The Unpredictable Times