Big question answered: A watershed moment in the natural world

Published: 10/3/2019 6:30:18 AM

(Last week, we asked readers this question: “What was your watershed moment for the issue you are most passionate about?” We received one response, and here it is.)

I am in awe of the complexity and beauty of nature. However, I am also worried about the fate of our planet, and the path we are headed on as we frack, deforest and contaminate our land, pump greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, and dump toxins into and otherwise despoil our waterways. Perhaps I am late to the party, in terms of acting on my concerns, but that doesn’t mean I have not been passionate about our environment for a very long time.

My watershed moment about just how precious our natural environment is came when I was a teen. After a chance encounter with an extraordinary organization in the Southwest, the Cottonwood Gulch Foundation, my dad decided that he wanted his kids to be exposed to a world very different from the one he had known. He sent each of us, in turn, to a place without running water or electricity, seven miles down an unpaved road outside a tiny town in northwestern New Mexico. This was the base camp of an organization that introduced young people to the importance of wilderness, conservation, low-impact living and sustainability practically before these were “things.” My dad sent me at age 14, kicking and screaming, but I never looked back, and I believe this gave me a visceral sense of the crucial importance of a protected environment.

We traveled in small groups to unspoiled, remote areas in the Southwest, and our goals were to learn from and about these regions without leaving a trace. We had only the water and food we had in our truck, and lean-to tents for nights when it was cold or there were no stars. Cellphones certainly weren’t a thing, but even letters from home were a luxury. We had to figure out how to grow up, get along and pay attention to the land at our feet.

The mountains, canyons, deserts and rivers of the Southwest are stunningly beautiful, but it is comparatively easy to see their fragility. It is easy to love them but at the same time to be protective. New Hampshire’s natural landscape somehow gives the illusion that it is impervious to insults. It may be easier to take for granted. That is all the more reason why we need to treasure it, study it, teach about its secrets and resist its exploitation. This is one small piece in the enormous challenge ahead of us.

MILLIE LaFONTAINE

Concord


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