by Anneli Rufus
Planning a summer vacation in the great outdoors? Are you sure it will still exist by then?
At our own risk, we take nature for granted. Although the US has some of the world's strongest environmental-protection legislation and our national-park system is incomparable, laws can change — and human beings are capable of incredible damage — from developers to corporate CEOs to reckless individuals who poach, burn, and pollute.
Devoted to "keeping the West wild," the Western Wilderness Conference set for this Thursday through Sunday on the UC Berkeley campus features a vast panoply of speakers, performers, and other presenters, discussing such topics as "Climate Change and Wilderness," "Grassroots Organizing for National Parks in the Digital Age," "Wild Versus Wall: Blocking Wildlife and Destroying Wilderness in the Name of Border Security," and "Wilderness Access Without a Car." The event's seventy-plus presenters include local celebrities such as Heyday Books founder Malcolm Margolin, author Kimi Kodani Hill, and UCB ecosystem-sciences professor/Guggenheim Fellow John Harte, along with activists, lawmakers, conservationists, scientists, academics, and artists from all over the country. Among these are Patagonia VP and Everest climber Rick Ridgeway, Arctic Refuge pilot Roger Kaye, and long-distance hiker/singer/photographer Walkin' Jim Stoltz, who asserts:
"We as a species need to experience nature. Plain and simple. We need something to remind us of where we came from, something that says, 'You, too, are a part of this planet.' Too often 'nature' is but the roses in our suburban yard or green grass in the neighborhood park. The fish in the aquarium are our only glimpse of wildlife. But they don't count. These are imitations. Pruned, fed, and pampered imitations. Nature is a living system, a living system that can stand on its own. Wilderness is nature as it was meant to be. It just is. Its birth and being do not revolve around human whims and wiles."
Hill's book Topaz Moon is about her grandfather, noted landscape painter Chiura Obata, who taught at UCB before being interned at the Tanforan and Topaz relocation centers during World War II. Even when confined at Topaz in the stark Utah desert, Obata was awestruck by the nature around him and founded an art school at the camp. Hll offers this quote from her grandfather, from an address he delivered at the school in 1943:
"Have we noticed the beautiful mountains surrounding us that have existed for thousands of years? They show heaven and earth their greatness. They can't be moved no matter how many people try. The sun and the moon have been shining for tens of thousands of years blessing the world. The mountains, moon, and sun never try to explain." — Anneli Rufus