The Hour of Land
The vast expanses of the west. Wide open places of staggering beauty grace our country and we are better for it. How can one stand at the mouth of Bryce Canyon National Park, the Grand Tetons, or even Antelope Island State park in Utah and not be moved, especially on a morning when the soft light touches the clouds, the mountains and streams that form this spectacular ecosystem? How can you not feel replenished as you stand in the high places and listen to the monumental silence of being? How can your soul not feel alive again as you witness the awesome spectacle of the Dead Horse State Point Park enshrouded in mist on a bitterly cold January morning in Moab?
I speak of the western United States, but scenes of deep physical and spiritual beauty abound across this land. Suddenly however, like the appearance of a massive summer storm, dark clouds have descended, blocking the light and presenting challenges so severe as to reshape our beloved lands into a grotesque shell of their former selves. The challenges will be fierce and we must ready ourselves for a struggle for the very soul of the wild places. If these challenged are left unchecked, we will see the triumph of forces hostile to beauty, gluttonous for profits and indifferent to the aftermath of a lost promise to future generations.
As I write this on a snowy morning in Utah, the forces threatening the land gather in Washington D.C to anoint a new President. Donald Trump, against all odds, will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. President Obama is leaving office and the protection he provided for the environmental movement and the preservation, indeed expansion of priceless wonders, has ended. The recent elections have swept in a Republican majority in Congress and the Supreme Court will tilt to the right. For the first time in decades, Republicans will control every lever of federal power, giving them total control over the machinery of government. Donald Trump has wasted no time appointing men such as Rex W. Tillerson, the former head of Exxon or Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general who is Donald Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency. A man who has sued said agency more than a dozen times and who previously questioned the very existence of the EPA will now be its head. Congressman Rob Bishop of Utah, an aggressive proponent of the Federal government returning lands to the states, will now have the ear of the President. Legislation has been introduced by Jason Chavez of Utah to sell off 3.3 million acres of national land, equivalent to the size of Connecticut. Legislation has also been introduced by Congressman Paul Gosar of Arizona to allow drilling in National Parks! This is just the beginning of an onslaught against our lands!
How can we, the people, stand idly by as the land comes under such ferocious attacks? How can we justify watching as the money barrons prepare to do what they have always done, rape the natural resources of the earth, irregardless of the consequenses? With the barrons of profit in positions of authority throughout the government, the amount of damage they can and will inflict is enormous. Talk of shrinking the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah is already in the wind. Republicans in Washington D.C and the state of Utah want the hard fought and recent designation of Bears Ears as a national monument totally reversed. The Keystone and Dakota pipelines have been given a green light again. A blind man could see the train coming and the winds of change are blowing with a stench of oil and gas strong in the air.
These are men of power. These are men of profit. These are men who condone the exploitation of the earth for oil and gas or they are owned by that industry. Theirs is the world of shareholders, profits, and annual returns. To them, free and wild lands, especially in the western United States, are untapped opportunities of wealth. They are no lovers of the land but profiteers of the land. Make no mistake, the storm has arrived, the wolf is at the door. The age of enlightenment ended the moment Donald Trump was sworn in and a dark new chapter is being written.
So what is to be done? In truth this is an ancient struggle pitting the forces of unbridled capitalism and market forces against Americans who value clean water, clean air and wild places to explore. “It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.” is a quote from Ansel Adams, who deeply loved the land and fought for its preservation. Ansel vigorously contacted his elected representatives to voice his concerns about the negative environmental impact of some government decisions. He did this on his ancient IBM typewriter but we have the internet and an array of tools for making our voices heard. The time for legitimate excuses of not being involved has ended and we have to dig deep to preserve the bounty of what previous women and men of vision worked so hard for.
We have voices. We have history. We have examples of people, men and women of deep spiritual committment who have fought this fight, dedicating their entire lives to the preservation of the environment. They answered the call of their generation in order to right an ancient wrong, Whether the messenger was Mahatma Gandhi, who defeated the all powerful British empire and freed his nation from colonialism or Dr. Martin Luther King who freed his nation from a caste system of segregation, these powerful examples also exist when it comes to the quality of the very air we breath. People such as Edward Abby and David Gessner spoke of the threats facing the west, modern day American author, conservationist, and activist Terry Tempest Williams gets up every day and fights for the wild places. These are but a few who have made an impact, made a difference in this far reaching struggle to define the very existence of life not just in the west, but in the place we call home, planet earth.
The time for shock has come and gone. The time of disbelief in what has happened to our country is over. The die has been cast, the gauntlet thrown down. Time spent on fights in social media is perhaps better used messaging your Senator, Congressman or local representative, letting them know your thoughts on fracking, drilling, rising carbon, sea levels and the explotation of the earth. Ask yourself how many times you have convinced someone over FB to see your side of the argument? How many friends, family members or colleagues have you moved to your side? President Obama made the point that maybe we should put down the mouse and talk face to face, listen to the other side and find common ground. A great idea but it is not where the center of power is located. The movers and shakers are your elected representatives and I would urge you to organize and concentrate your real energy on the people who make the decisions about air, water, and land. I would urge you to hold them accountable because that is what they are NOT counting on. In fact they are banking on you not calling, not emailing, not marching to protest. Your elected representatives, the banks and energy companies that own them expect you to be so shell shocked that you just accept the new order. They expect they can count on more indifference, because well over 100,000,000 people sat out the election. Only time will tell.
But I promise you this. I will make myself heard. I will be heard from the great Wasatch mountains. I will be heard from the woods of the Uintas, I will be heard from the red canyons of the Moab and I will be heard from the mystic Grand Tetons. And I will fight. I will struggle, I will have good days and bad. I will have victories and defeats but no one will wonder. No one will wonder where I stand. They will know where I put my feet down. They will know that when they come for our wild places, I will be the wolf. They will know as they approach my den, I am the father at the door. But this cannot be done alone. Join me and millions of our fellow Americans, together our voices are legion. This is not the time to be on your knees but your time to face what every generation of Americans has faced since the beginning of this country: a crisis of such proportions you are forced to look yourself in the mirror and ask “Is this the price for clean water and clean air? Is this the price for freedom?”
Terry Tempest Williams was so right when she titled her book “The Hour of Land”. This is OUR hour. And this is OUR land.
I believe it is time for all Americans to be on their knees. God can do more in one second than we can all year. Christians stay on your knees talk to God about these situations. God can and will do what we ask if we believe.
It's a wonderful blog post that I sincerely urge all to read.
Our best wishes to the American people. They, mind you I do not include their governments and businesses, have been at the vanguard of struggle for better human values in public dealings and endeavours. May they once again lead the way and succeed, setting precedents for others to emulate. Amen.
That is powerfull and well written Mark Seawell. How can those people even begin to think it is ok to destroy what it took nature thousands of years to create? It feels like so much of what is America is under attack.
Thanks also for sharing your beautiful photography work.
Wow - incredible post!
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