photo by Robert Rountree
“Only cancer cells respect no limits and in doing so they destroy their habitat and perish. Civilization has cancerous tendencies; wilderness protection is an antidote. It is time to apply the same logic to growth. The existence of wilderness is the surest sign that mankind has understood this truth and that he is prepared to put his own legitimate demands into ecological balance with those of his fellow travelers on spaceship earth.”—Nash
I’ve always seen my father as a John Muir-ish romantic type, beard and all, paddling through the fogs of history, lifting the veils of time to sniff out old civilizations amid ancient pine forests. As an archaeologist he spends a lot of time in “the bush” around Hudson’s Bay and the Great Lakes. He works in the field, trying to envision where prehistoric or pre-Colombian people would set up camp, or get their tools and at 66 he’s set up quite the reputation for himself. Recently, most of his work has been involved with heritage surveys in areas of pre-development. In Canada, the government requires that when an area is to be developed, it must have both and environmental and heritage impact assessment done prior to any disturbance. This means that whenever my father finds a piece of flint or an old portage for instance, entire highways may have to be re-drawn.
My father spends the majority of his time trekking through virgin forest. He’s been instilled with a deep respect for nature which is what drove him to work in the field in the first place, but on the other hand he’s beginning to see himself as a storm crow, or some sort of loud stepping harbinger of civilization. The last few years have seen him working more than he has for most of his life. The discovery of diamonds, gold, and oil in the north coupled with the increasingly milder winters has allowed for a development boom in Canada’s northern wilderness. The previously untouched wild is quickly becoming a series of grid worked lumber yards, reservoirs, and strip mines.
Luckily he has the ability to set aside tracts of land that are of high interest or vulnerability. He lives on the cusp of civilization, witnessing firsthand what our thirst for natural resources does to our planet. Just this morning he was telling me how he paddled a river that hasn’t had people on it for decades, and since an electric company would be putting in a hydro dam following his work there, he would likely be the last person to do so.
Ecosystems, habitat destruction, and bio-diversity are all themes that we’ve become familiar with since high school science class, and they’re themes that I’ve been revisiting a lot lately. With time, what had previously been presented to us as cut-and-dry arguments are now being revealed as deeper, more difficult discussions than we had previously thought. The arbitrary boundaries of ecosystems are impossible to fence in, yet the omnipresent threats to their existence are no less real. The alteration and destruction of natural habitat at human hands is annihilating biologically diverse ecosystems. Science, that sexy word that created icons like Iron Man and Bruce Wayne has not been able to identify the exact number of species on our planet, and we lose more every day. The loss of a species before its discovery seems almost sinful when you think of what we could have learned from them.
Mankind survived throughout “prehistory” by living close to and learning from the land. Medicine men and women passed down ancestral knowledge of what plant could kill or heal. We mimic those practices today but on a grander scale; insulin is usually derived from pig and cow pancreases, and salmon hormones treat osteoporosis, and viper venom can treat high blood pressure. A recent study found that even the lowly tick has a something to offer, as its saliva shows promise in fighting cancer.
After the collapse of the honeybee industry here in North America, anyone who turned on their televisions was quickly schooled as to the importance of their role in pollinating our crops. A free source of pollination that is infinitely more efficient than any perverse machine equipped with a Q-tip, a bottle of wine, and some James Brown could ever do. Yet the colony collapse is believed to have been man-made due to rampant pesticide use and strange fungal diseases worsened by years of inbreeding and stressed living conditions. We literally whored out our honey bees, gave them STDs, and then accidentally gassed them along with thousands of other insect species that dared to fly too close to our GMO Granny Smiths.
The impact of man on nature is apparent, and the world could see it clearly if they just put their iPhones down long enough. The Sahara is pushing its borders ever outward, encroaching on over-populated and exhausted soils in the developing world. European forests are more susceptible to acid rain than those in North America because they are less diverse and more managed than the more diverse ecosystems in our freshly settled continent. Biodiversity seems to be too big to handle for human hands. Geographically places like the Galapagos shouldn’t even exist, but instead it is an oasis of strange and complicated creatures. This alien environment was mercifully spared of human interference for the majority of our history, and has developed an intensely diverse, specialized ecosystem. It’s not hard to draw a parallel between the Galapagos and the planet Earth when you list qualities like those above. Whether on a rock in a lake, an ocean, a desert, or a rainforest, it is diversity by which life thrives and continues, and all we need to do is take a step back and let nature do what it has done for millions of years, live. Sadly, by looking at my father’s long list of contracts for the upcoming months, it’s easy to see that won’t be happening any time soon.
Brendan is an import from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario Canada and a graduate of Rollins College where he focused on Environmental and Growth Management Studies. He has a quilt-like resume comprised of event/festival planning, puppet construction/performance and instruction, illustration work, community gardening, public art installations, and is a strong proponent of environmental stewardship. He is the founder of The SIT Project which places artistically up-cycled chairs at bus stops that have no seating in the Orlando area and has received National attention for his exploits.– website