Culture / Ecology / Life in Jackson Hole / Wildlife

“One wild and precious life”

There are times when our ecological impact is hidden deep within the fabric of our culture, and there are times when it slaps you right in the face. When your cheek smarts from the obvious, the blinds are drawn from the obscure. As I was driving down Antelope Flats road, my eyes fell on the remains of a sage grouse spilled onto the asphalt.

One image can draw a thousand emotions. At first I felt a deep sadness, then the sadness morphed into anger. The speed limit is 35 mph on Antelope Flats Road. There isn’t much traffic. Anyone with half a neuron can stop for a grouse. I scanned further down the road and saw five cars and a trailer parked helter-skelter across the road and in the sage. The occupants of the death mobiles were armed with cameras, just feet away from the herd of bison crossing the road. I looked down at the carnage again, then back to the tourists. I wondered if they even slowed down for the grouse crossing the road, or if they were just too fixated on the bison to notice.

Sage Grouse, September 1, 2013

Sage Grouse, September 1, 2013

So often we climb into our vehicles without thinking about the environmental costs inherent in driving. Our exhaust pipes let out one long silent-but-deadly fart of carbon monoxide, and our fenders are covered in the exoskeletons of insects. Often our wheels are caked in the blood of animals too slow to escape our rushed lives. Our roads, the great Pyramids of our civilization, divide ecosystems and cover over half of the impermeable surfaces in American habitat.

Awareness of our environmental impact can be crippling. It is so much easier to practice ignorance than it is to see our participation in the world’s next Great Extinction; however, we must open our eyes. Awareness must lead us to action. The environmental revolution is beginning, and it is our time to define the future relationship between humans and nature. When our eyes are opened by the sorrow of seeing an animal sprawled across the pavement or the decimation of a clear-cut forest, we must ask ourselves if we are truly living the way that we want to be living.

Part of the learning that takes place on the Kelly campus is in the field and in the classroom under the leadership of our dedicated faculty; however, another huge part of living here is finding our place within natural communities. Living here draws the big questions of life- what impact do I want to have? How can I leave the world a better place than when I found it?

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean–

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–

­who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver, The Summer Day


One thought on ““One wild and precious life”

  1. Charlie, unfortunately the inherent selfishness of many does more damage to our country than the goodness of most. The people you mentioned are the same ones who smoke and for some reason refuse to use the ash tray in their cars and toss that cigarette out the window thus destroying our environment. As a pedestrian who does a lot of walking, I often feel as endangered as that grouse. I think the culture of today is a “me first” one and your comments should be engraved on the forehead of some of these thoughtless people. It would be nice to see increased fines for speeding, littering, and just plain bad driving and then have that money poured into maintaining the beautiful parts of our country (and sadly diminishing at the same time). If you find these people committing such lousy acts, give them bad information as to how to handle a grizzly attack.

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