Updated: May 23
I'm troubled by the fact that sometimes, we hurt the very places we love just by our presence. How can I still venture out and leave a place better than I found it? And on a larger scale, what's the impact of our collective billions traveling and exploring?
I've encountered this guilt when driving a gas-filled car to a park. When swimming on a hot day, suddenly aware of my sunscreen, that despite taking measures like buying "reef safe," letting it absorb, and minimizing with clothing, is undoubtedly dissolving into the water. I've encountered it at the crag, when we "clean" the cracks and holds at the beginning of the season, wiping away living microscopic worlds of the vertical realm.
When determined to have no net negative impact at all, it feels paralyzing. So, we bargain with ourselves and try to be gentle with both the earth and our curious hearts.
As a salve for this social and environmental paralysis, I came up with a list of things I can do to try to truly act in line with my values. To try to be the wildlife, the human, the earth advocate I claim to be. I consult this list whenever I feel the strings of reciprocity asking me to give more back, to even the scales. I read it whenever I question whether my version of exploration is the right one for that place in that moment. Maybe this guide can help you, too.
Get involved in public policy.
Yes, we hear this one a lot, and signing a petition isn't going to solve all our problems. But by voting for the candidates who actively espouse conservation, protection of wild lands, etc., we can make a difference.
Don't underestimate the power of the midterms and local elections. Furthermore, you can really be heard by participating in public hearings, submitting public comments, and calling or emailing your representatives.
Participate in local grassroots organizations...
...especially those founded by people of color and indigenous communities whose voice are too-often absent from conservation and public lands decisions, and whose rights are usually the first to be jeopardized by destructive policies. Listen to the people who've been listening to the land for generations.
You can also volunteer with local organizations on a work day to remove invasive species or clean trails: better trails improve access and may discourage people from wandering off-trail. There are also plenty of opportunities to help defend land through direct action. It takes all kinds, and if you're not in the position to stand on the frontlines, those holding it down could always use behind-the-scenes support.
Pay attention to nature's signs.
Ask permission to venture into the land you wish to explore, even if you don't consider yourself spiritual. You don't need to listen for a voice inside your head saying, "go away;" sometimes, the clues are all around us. Notice an active nest on the cliff in the line you want to send? Maybe that's a sign you should pick a different route or try again when nesting season's over.
Discuss unique management solutions with others.
Policymakers aren't the only ones who can come up with ideas; indeed, sometimes innovative solutions to complex problems come from the fresh perspectives of those on the ground who aren't blinded by bureaucracy.
For example, we need to limit human impact in wild places, and that often means limiting human visitors. But who gets to see certain places shouldn't be decided by economics. One possible solution could be free but capped, lottery permitting. However, no one size fits all, and until our parks get a bigger budget, increasing entry fees will continue to be the norm.
In a nutshell, put your heads together with other aware adventurers. Then, write to your reps. They read comments from their constituents. Tell them your ideas and ask them to support increased budgets for public lands and oppose fossil fuel interests.
Leave wild places wild.
Accept that many places are better off without any human contact. Some species thrive with our input (take indigenous basket makers' reciprocal relationship to sweetgrass), but others specifically thrive without it. If we care about the inherent rights of other beings and the land herself, that means accepting that what they may need most is for us to be as far away as possible. Accept that we won't get to explore there, and that's ok.
Share your love for outdoors with others, especially young people.
This takes on many forms. Explore more with the children in your family. Volunteer with a local group that helps get kids outside, especially kids who often experience monetary and transportation barriers to access. Read nature-centered books for kids at schools or in libraries. The next generation of adventurous advocates is born in children who appreciate the earth.
“In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught.” - Baba Dioum
Connect to green spaces locally...
...however familiar or small. Watch a patch of urban woods transform over the seasons. Witness and write or draw about the subtle nuances of change, and see how much there is to learn. See how quickly those trees come to feel like friends you can't wait to visit again. There may be more love, healing, and contentment in that than in visiting any number of faraway, bucket list parks.
What else can we add to this list? How are you a conservationist adventuress?
Onward + inward.