The Biophiliac’s Guide to Modern Life: Tip #3

Tip #3: Talking to People Who Aren’t Just Like You Is, in General, a Good Idea

It starts with a simple premise: Your way might not be the best way. It probably isn’t even the only way.

Here’s what I mean. Although I use gasoline-powered transportation to get to places like trailheads and wilderness areas, I often opt for human-powered locomotion. At home, I commute and run errands by bike whenever possible, and I prefer my nature experiences without the noise and fumes of internal combustion engines.

A few weekends ago, we were returning from a lovely logging road walk when three motorcycles passed us. Predictably, I felt myself grumbling a bit under my breath. I mean, they were driving on a road, while we were walking on it, enjoying peace and quiet and native plants. The audacity!

And then we caught up with them at the trailhead, and the group turned out to have been our wonderful contractor, his wife, and one of their crew members. These guys had–literally–saved our lives by building us a new porch that was as sturdy as it was beautiful, which we found out when a tree blew down onto the house shortly after they’d finished building it.

They told us about their sunny Sunday afternoon ride out to the trailhead, their plans for a short hike and a quick beer at what is (arguably) the best brewery in Whatcom County on their way back into town. They asked about the porch and other house projects, and we chatted more about their experience canoeing the Bowron Lakes in British Columbia.

It was, in short, wonderful to see them. It made my weekend. And yet, if it had been someone we didn’t know on those bikes, I would have continued on in my grumbly state.

Here’s another example: Early last fall, we were hiking a relatively unmaintained trail, Rainbow Ridge, and met up with two hunters. They lent us their spotting scopes for a better view of mountain goats across the valley, then told us all about the permitting process for hunting goats in Washington State and about incredible skill it takes to bowhunt mountain goats.

They described how and where they hunted bear up along the ridge, pointing out patterns in the grass left by migrating animals and geological contours that favored wildlife encounters. They took off down the trail with an enviable grace, and I still marvel at their skill and their depth of knowledge.

All of these people love nature as much as I do.

Their experience of nature, though different, is equally valid.

Learning about how other people love nature enriches my own experience of the natural world.

That statements so obvious need to be said at all is indicative of the times in which we live. It would seem that to experience things differently or to disagree politically is to inhabit different worlds, uncrossable even with familial ties or human kindness. We preach shrilly to our own choirs and carry our deep-seated biases with us into the voting booth, the grocery store, the wilderness.

There are those who take this position to its logical conclusion and separate themselves geographically. Fearing a massive disruption to a fragile grid, a liberal takeover, and Californians, in equal measure, an amorphous group of folks is, apparently, colonizing the inland mountain West. They settle in places like Montana, Idaho, and eastern Oregon and Washington, stockpiling weapons, living off the grid, and educating their kids at home.

Although perhaps less extreme, my own reactions illustrate differences in degree, not kind.

And yet I believe that this experiment we call civilization is still worth it. Thinking ecologically, individual lives are fragile but a healthy ecosystem is strong.

And so it is with our collective human experience. When we strike that balance between the individual and the collective, when we subdue our egos yet encourage people to contribute according to their gifts, we manage to be greater than the sum of our parts.

For better or worse, we share a planet and a geological age marked by the effects of human activity. We’re going to need each other.


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