Many years ago, I remember reading an interview with the late Edward Abbey, in which he said he was willing to rail about our abuses of nature half the time, if he could be lost in the desert, alone, the other half.
Mary Oliver, poet laureate of wrens and owls, who died recently, also rejoiced in the great family of things. “If you pay attention,” she once said, “you see more.” And unlike Abbey, she never scolded humanity about environmental missteps. Instead, she wrote of the beauty and mystery of nature in language so gorgeous her poems urge me outside.
With that in mind, I took the dogs snowshoeing the other day. Well, I was on snowshoes; the dogs didn’t need them.
It was close to sunset and I could have kicked back and opened a book but I’d been indoors all day and the dogs’ insistence tipped the scales. As the whole darkening mass of the sky began to transmute from gray-blue to black, I let them out, strapped on my snowshoes, and together we followed the pasture fence downhill.
At the old logging road, we headed west - the dogs barking ahead and me trudging along behind. A groomed-snowmobile trail intersects the logging road and threads through the heart of the woods-rimmed valley. If we’d kept going north, we could have snowshoed all the way to Canada. But as the sky darkened and merged into the shadow of the hills we plodded south.
There was no moon. And with every step I took down the trail the dogs, overcome with enthusiasm, stuffed their faces into coyote tracks - one-after-the-other - pock-marking the snow like crazed post-hole diggers.
The night was beyond beautiful. And it reminded me that both Abbey and Oliver understood that to help the Earth you need to love the Earth.
And to love the Earth you need to know it intimately and to listen to its language, that earthly and provocative chorus of animate and inanimate beings, and then to be open to scenes that move you for reasons you might not fathom.