I thoroughly enjoyed the short story “The Life She’s Been Missing,” by Greg Ames [September 2014]. I’m impressed by the author’s ability to so accurately understand the dating woes of a twenty-six-year-old female. As a cardigan-wearing twenty-six-year-old myself, I found Addie all too familiar: her longing and loss, her confusion about entering adulthood, her lack of purpose and meaning. She is beginning to discover — and I am finally learning to accept — that no amount of love from any man or woman will soothe all that.
I always look forward to Sparrow’s contributions as a break from the more sober stories in The Sun. “Beyond Belief” [September 2014] was no exception. My parents raised my brother and me without any religious framework. When I asked about God, they answered, “God is in everything.”
As an adult I am comfortable with uncertainty. Today I went for a bike ride along the lake and experienced those “waves of love pouring down on me,” as Sparrow put it. I agree with him: it is happiness.
In June I bought a hammock, intending to spend the summer in it under the tree in the backyard. I used it once, for a full thirty minutes, before the nagging voice in my head that sounds like my mother’s told me I should be “doing something.”
That was two and a half months ago. Last weekend I decided I was going to lie in my hammock again, and I picked up the August issue of The Sun to keep me company. I was immediately immersed in Leath Tonino’s interview with Jack Turner [“Not on Any Map”]. His description of a typical American, oblivious to the wildness outside his or her back door, was a perfect description of me.
Tonight I came home from my ten-hour day exhausted and headed straight to my hammock. I listened to the crickets, the farmer feeding his cattle next door, his dog splashing in the pool. When I finally returned from my “wilderness retreat,” I was refreshed and ready to do something.
Jack Turner’s understanding of wildness moved me deeply. Today a summer thunderstorm has me pressing my hands against the window glass, my nose inches away. Earlier, fireworks went off inside of me as I watched purple martins working the field before the rains.
After fifteen years in Florida, I’m hungry to move back to Maine. Could I, at the age of sixty-one, laugh like a child again watching a fox leap? Could I feel the blessing of hearing a mama coyote feed her young?
Yes, I could go home and be welcomed by the wildness.
Like Jack Turner, I, too, have seen a mountain lion. One moonlit night she groomed herself in my driveway while three skunks walked backward toward her with their tails up and ready to spray. The elegant cat slowly stood, stretched, and sauntered away.
I grew up car camping with my family in redwood forests, swimming in the clean lakes and streams of what used to be rural California. Many people depend on trips into nature to help them relax and enjoy their lives. My problem is with those who then return home and spray their roses with pesticides, wash their clothes, hair, and laundry in toxic stews, and can’t even recycle their glass containers.
I loved the interview with Jack Turner, especially his comments about anger. Finally somebody gets it: we get mad, or we stand for nothing.
As a hiker and backpacker, I’ve been alone in the woods for up to three weeks at a time. I disagree with Jack Turner when he encourages people who are likely unprepared for winter backcountry conditions to take off into the wild alone. They are not having “wilderness experiences”; they are taxing search-and-rescue resources. Remote areas of Utah are fit habitats for indigenous species that can survive off precious little rainfall, but not for inexperienced travelers. Sheer misery does not a return camper make.
I was captivated and awed by the interview with Jack Turner. I could tell he was an authentic guy: honest, in touch with his emotions, and deeply connected with the majesty of the living Earth. As an environmentalist who is trying to practice sustainability in my own life, I agree with him that all people should connect with “wildness,” and that such a connection is crucial if we are to respect the planet enough to maintain its — and our own — well-being over the long term.
At the same time, I feel Turner may be forgetting that there are already at least 7 billion humans on the planet, and there will be a couple of billion more by the middle of the century. Most of the world’s population lives in big, teeming cities such as Mumbai, São Paulo, Johannesburg, and Jakarta. They have neither access to nature nor the ability to seek it out. What’s more, we can hardly have those billions of people living in what remains of our truly wild places. There simply aren’t enough such places left for most of us to have that experience.
In the future people will have to learn how to create a sense of wildness in more humble, and possibly less “wild,” surroundings: the cities and suburbs and slums and favelas of the world.
Your interview with Jack Turner prompted in me a mixture of great respect and profound ire.
Turner states that he supports the organizations Greenpeace and Earthjustice because they are effective in suing environmental offenders. A few paragraphs later he bemoans the data-driven nature of wilderness research. How exactly does he think that Earthjustice prepares for and wins a lawsuit? The only way our legal system allows one to build a case in defense of wilderness is through the sort of scientific data that Turner belittles.
The sad truth is that wildness by Turner’s definition — self-willed, autonomous, self-organized — no longer exists. There is no ecosystem on the planet that is untouched by climate change. As much as I would like to agree with his recommendation that we leave wild places and animals alone, the outcome of such a strategy would not be a proliferation of wildness but instead the extinction of many species.
Turner’s vision of natural purity is based more on ideology than reality. He laments turning our ecosystems over to scientists due to science’s history of “making terrible mistakes.” This is, of course, accurate. Scientists should not be given carte blanche, and interventions in nature should never be taken lightly. But don’t ideologies — and the politics and religions that embody them — also have histories of making terrible mistakes? It’s important to examine which we’re trying to preserve: the health of ecosystems or the purity of our ideals.
Jack Turner responds:
After he read the proofs of my book The Abstract Wild, Peter Matthiessen gave me some advice: Don’t pay any attention to reviews or critics. If they are positive, they will inflate your ego, and that’s not good. If they are negative, they will make you angry, and that’s not good. If they disagree with your facts, then you will end up contesting them, and that’s annoying, tiresome, and wastes time and energy, and that, in turn, is not good. I have tried to abide by his advice (there was no one I respected more), and I see no reason to change.
Memories of hospitals and doctors and IVs tumbled through my mind as I read Christy Shake’s essay “Faith of My Father” [August 2014]. My son had five operations and two life-threatening illnesses before he turned seven. People would ask me how I coped, and my response was that I didn’t have a choice. I had to. He was my child.
I endured maybe 1 percent of what Shake has experienced, but I think I know how she has managed to provide such fierce protection and attention to her son, and why she will continue to be there for him: he’s her child.
How lovely that Ellery Akers [“Nature, an Index,” August 2014] saves the life of a drowning mayfly. How compassionate that she slides a cup over a crane fly to rescue it from being trapped in her house.
Why didn’t the chicken she cooked deserve the same respect? All beings are sentient, and all suffer. We could so easily end their suffering, if we could only see it.
In the first year of my Sun subscription, I have moved frequently. The magazine has been delivered to me at three different addresses so far. I’m currently in Idaho to start work on a master’s in outdoor education. Having never been out west before, I was nervous about the people I would meet there. Would a young woman from a liberal Midwest city fit in with potato farmers and gun-toting ranchers?
On a recent Friday morning I made my first visit to the local library. My eyes were drawn to a stack of free magazines in the entryway. On top were three back issues of The Sun. I exhaled the breath I’d been holding since I’d arrived. There are people here who think like me.