Monday, March 7, 2011

Give 'Em an Inch

So, I finally finished Gordon Hempton's One Square Inch of Silence. It's a great book, and only took me so long to read because... well, I've been reading less of late, and have generally been very distractable and scattered these past few months. Too much time online as well, I think.

Anyways. He has an uphill fight ahead of him, but it's a noble cause and I support him. It's interesting to think about quiet places I have known. Having never really been as attuned to these things in the conscious way I have been since picking this book up, it's not likely to be quiet as what he would consider quiet. But I can name a few experiences, at least.

Porcupine Mountains
Top of the list is the Porcupine Mountains State Park of northwest Michigan. I remember it as being full of leaves-in-wind, and the gentle lapping of Lake Superior's unusually gentle waters on the stony shore, the almost silent night-thrum of the Big Carp River valley spread below me where I sat on the open ridge in the early morning hours, bathed in an astonishingly bright half-moon, feeling like the only man in the world save for my father, behind me sleeping in the trees.

And there are the alpine slopes of New Hampshire's Presidential Mountains, especially Jefferson after the chaotic crowds of Washington; I think it was the contrast that did it, though in actual fact just then on the side of Jefferson only an occasional fly could be heard. Also places in the southern Appalachians, and in Utah-- a few rare parts of the Wasatch Plateau, and especially Zion N.P., which despite what Mr. Hempton writes, struck me as a very quiet place, very mellow in spirit compared to Canyonlands and Arches, which felt much more hectic in spirit. I think it was because there were not private cars allowed in Zion, just the shuttle busses. Or maybe that valley really is special, and named appropriately...

Zion NP
Sadly many of these silences and quietudes are mere moments. Air planes and cars and chainsaws and all manner of other intrusions occur continually. But I'm thinking positively just now. I like Hempton's idea. Imagine if everyone picked a square inch to defend, some place they felt a connection to and meant to preserve. Not limited only to preserving quiet, but for whatever. It could be a trout fisherman protecting his favorite pool in the stream. We all have special places that we love-- maybe a place only we know, maybe a place loved in common.

It's a fascinating thought experiment. Imagine a website where people could mark an interactive map with their spot and find others nearby with whom to form coalitions. It'd be a real democratic, grassroots environmental ethic. After all, I firmly believe that for the environmental ethic, the land ethic, the green ethic, call it what you will... for it to matter, it has to be personal.

This is why organizations like the Utah Conservation Corps build trails. It doesn't seem like conservation (though keeping people on a designated path reduces impacts elsewhere), but it is, and vitally so. It helps get people out there to experience those places, to make them real. It's why there's many programs to get urban kids out in the woods for a weekend. I fully support, for example, not drilling in ANWR, but it's abstract to me. I most likely will never get there. So there's no connection. And environmentalism, ecology, is ALL about connection; building a relationship with Nature, from which we've become disconnected thanks to civilization.

Waste and Madness
in Appalachia
Example: who cares more about mountaintop removal mining? Some Sierra Clubber in Seattle, or some hillbillie back in the hollers of West Virginia? I argue the latter: it is their home being shaken by the blasting day and night and being covered in the settling stone dust, it is there land values that are plummeting, their streams and drinking water poisoned, their daily landscape being marred forever. Props to the Sierra Club and its work and empathy, but a vested interest is the prime driver for passion and action. But the people need to connect, to find one another.

I wonder if this would be feasable. I know nothing about website design, or whether this is needed or a useful idea. There's already clubs and coalitions out there, locally and nationally. I'm sure there's networks already that connect them to each other, and connect people to local clubs. Still, it's a cool thought...

1 comment:

  1. This is a great idea. Keep us updated on what others have to say about it or how you decide to proceed!