Sunday, September 27, 2009

Musing, as the Miles Roll By

Marble Canyon in northern Arizona (Photo by Narca)

One of the big perks of travel––of long, relaxed hours on the road––is that our minds disengage from our daily concerns, and we play, unfocused, with the elements of our experience, until suddenly there's a shift, and a new pattern or recognition emerges.

On this road trip from Idaho to Arizona, I'm watching the landscape unfold. We move from the coniferous forests of montane central Idaho, through the sagebrush and basin-and-range topography of the Great Basin, into the vivid and spectacular canyon country of southern Utah and northern Arizona, and finally return to the giant Saguaro of the Sonoran Desert. As the landscape unfolds, my mind drifts.

We are, all of us, rooted in the archetypes of our heritage. In Australia, I was struck by the ways in which Anglo Australians celebrate the settling of that continent by British criminals and cast-offs, who found within themselves the necessary fortitude and courage to start new lives. Similarly, for many North Americans, a pioneer ethic and ethos resonate. Think of the changes that have swept through our two countries since their founding.

Consider the publishing trade. During the 1800s, my great grandfather, Charles M. Boynton, was editor of a newspaper in Hamilton, Texas. The typewriter was invented during his lifetime. What a boon this machine was to the newspaper trade, and now it is seldom used. In contrast, my young grandson will never know a pre-computer, pre-internet world.

After the typewriter came the linotype machine. When I had a summer job at a publishing company in Denver, the noisy old linotype machines were still in use, although the company was starting to phase in offset presses. Each linotype operator sat before his or her machine, typing, and the metal letters fell into place in the line of type, and slugs of lead alloy separated word from word and line from line––all accompanied by tremendous racket. When a proofreader discovered a mistake in a galley, we had to run downstairs and arrest the plate before more printing was done. The offending "a" or "t" had to be pried out of the page and replaced with the correct letter, a far more labor-intensive procedure than is hitting a delete key today!

These workaday changes have paralleled changes in the landscape. C.M. Boynton knew a world where Bison still roamed areas of Texas, when unbelievably vast flocks of Passenger Pigeons took days to fly past a homestead, when Carolina Parakeets still munched cockleburs back East, and where bunch grasses in southern Arizona swept the bellies of horses.

I rue the impossibility of holding these ancestral experiences and perceptions alive in our minds. They would give us a benchmark to comprehend just how much change we've brought to the planet. They would give us deeper motivation for restoring lost ecological processes, for reclaiming watersheds, for maintaining viable populations of species, and for ensuring that a network of corridors exists, so that plants and animals can migrate to suitable conditions as global climate change digs in. I don't want my grandson (or any other young person) to have to witness the extinction of wildness from the land he knows.

Several organizations are striving to put wildlife corridors in place. Check out the work being done in the US by Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, The Wildlands Network (formerly the Wildlands Project), The Rewilding Institute, and Defenders of Wildlife. In the western US, a coalition of respected conservation organizations is promoting the Spine of the Continent Initiative to connect wild lands from Alaska's Brooks Range to Mexico's Sierra Madre Occidental.

Similarly, Australians are working to create the massive Alps-to-Atherton conservation corridor, which will span 2800 kilometers along the eastern rim of that continent.

Now there is a vision for the future!

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