April 06, 2007
Originally published February 2, 2002
As someone who has hiked, backpacked, camped and gardened for many years, I despise "environmentalists." I love the land and nature as much as anyone, but I recognize nature for what it is: a totally uncaring, disinterested force that pays mankind no attention at all. I want to puke every time I listen to someone whine about "fragile wetlands," "pristine wilderness," or "delicate ecosystems." I have been on canoe trips through hundreds of miles of "fragile wetlands," which appeared very much like malarial swamps to me. There, mosquitoes flew in squadrons fit to suck a grown man dry of blood, cottonmouths lurked in the dark water and fell from tree limbs into the canoe and all manner of evil things padded, crawled, scuttled and croaked in that "natural" environment. They all had one thing in common. They didn't give a shit whether I got out of there alive any more than Mother Nature did. I saw some beautiful sights, but nature remained dispassionate all the while.
The "pristine wilderness" I have hiked featured monumental rainfall that swelled creeks I crossed getting in to impossible depths to cross getting out, sudden freezes and snowfalls, and numerous visits from those cute little "natural" creatures such as bears, skunks, rabid racoons and even one porcupine, all of which didn't give a shit whether I got out of there alive or not. In fact, I received the distinct impression that Mother Nature tried to kill me on a few of those trips. I discovered that the pristine wilderness was just as dispassionate as a fragile wetland.
I learned about "delicate ecosystems" early in life and this knowledge has been reinforced many times since. When I was sixteen, my cousin and I hiked up Black Mountain to find my grandfather's grave. We went toward where a church and a cemetary once existed, but nobody had lived there in years, and the delicate ecosystem of the Cumberland Mountains had taken over everything, with vines, briars, sticker-bushes and tangles of new-grown trees making the place unrecognizable to anyone who once knew it. We climbed the rocks of a dry creek bed at first, then chopped and hacked our way through the delicate ecosystem until we found what remained of the church, which was a few rotting timbers covered in green vines. We stumbled into the cemetary, too, and found the old tombstones all cockeyed or laying face-down because of the roots growing up beneath them. After we flipped several of them over to read the names and uncovered a couple of angry copperheads in the process, I found the stone belonging to my grandfather. I used my Bowie knife to dig a shallow hole and stand the stone upright where I thought it belonged. My cousin and I then hacked our way back through the delicate ecosystem and came down from the mountain.
By that evening, we were both working alive with poison ivy blisters. We took weeks to recover.
Two years later, my father wanted to see the HIS father's grave. We drove there together, to the same place where my cousin and I had parked, and I could not find a sign of anywhere we had been. "We started up a dry creek," I said. "We walked on the rocks." But I saw no dry creek, nor any sign of fallen rocks to make us a path. "I think it was over here somewhere," I said, and we went to look, but all we found was tangled undergrowth, vines and brambles. It was as if my cousin and I had never been there. It was as if NO ONE had ever been there, let alone built a church and a cemetary sometime in the past. Finally, my dad and I left and we never went back.
Somewhere on the side of that mountain, my grandfather is buried. His tombstone probably fell over once more a long time ago. I will never know for certain, because I'll never find the place again. I tried two years after I DID find it, and I couldn't do it. That was 34 years ago. Those delicate ecosystems beat all I ever saw for being so implacable.
Earth abides. It always has and it always will. It doesn't need "environmentalists." It doesn't need anyone.
All content © Rob Smith