Recognizing the Rights of Nature and the Living Forest

Chinese charater for the respect of nature

"Liberty cannot be guaranteed by law.
Nor by anything else except the resolution
of free citizens to defend their liberties.

"If you refuse to pay unjust taxes,
your property will be confiscated.

If you defend your property,
you will be arrested.

If you resist arrest,
you will be clubbed.

If you defend yourself against clubbing,
you will be shot dead.

stir up society

Abbey's Road

Creeping Corporatization of National Parks

November 6, 1980

Awaking as usual sometime before the dawn, frost on my beard and sleeping bag, I see four powerful lights standing in a vertical row on the eastern sky.

Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, and, pale crescent on a darkened disc, the old moon.

The three great planets appear to be rising from the cusps of the moon.

I stare for a long time at this strange, startling apparition, a spectacle I have never before seen in all my years on planet Earth.

What does it mean?

If ever I have seen a portent in the sky this must be it.

Spirit both forms and informs the universe, agreed the New England transcendentalists, of whom Henry David Thoreau was one.

All Nature is but symbolic of a greater spiritual reality beyond, and within.


Norwegian Wood

Watching the planets, I stumble about the campfire, breaking twigs, filling the coffeepot.

I dip water out of buckets in this world; the water chills my hands.

I stare long at the beautiful dimming lights in the sky and find there no meaning other than intrinsic beauty.

"Reality is fabulous," said Henry David Thoreau; "be it life or death, we crave nothing but Reality."

The forest spread below us in summer in seventeen different shades of green.

There were yellow pine and pinon pine, blue spruce and Engelmann spruce, white fir and Douglas fir, quaking aspen, New Mexican locust, alligator juniper, and four kinds of oak.

Banjo Duel

Along the rimrock of the escarpment, where warm air rose from the canyons beneath, grew manzanita, agave, sotol, and several species of cactus - prickly pear, pincushion, fishhook.

Far down in the canyons, where water flowed, though not always on the surface, we could see sycamore, alder, cottonwood, walnut, hackberry, wild cherry, and wild grape.

The naming of things is a useful mnemonic device, enabling us to distinguish and utilize and remember what otherwise might remain an undifferentiated sensory blur, but names do not tell us much of character, essence, meaning.

Albert Einstein thought that the most mysterious aspect of the universe is what he called its "comprehensibility".

To me the most mysterious thing about the universe is not its comprehensibility but the fact that it exists.

And the same mystery attaches to everything within it.

The Earth is permeated through and through by mystery.

Modern science and technology have given us the social engineering techniques to measure, analyze, and take apart the immediate neighborhood, including the neighbors.

But this knowledge adds not much to our understanding of things.

"Knowledge is power," said Francis Bacon, great-great-grandfather of the nuclear age.

Power does not lead to wisdom, even less to understanding.

Sympathy, compassion, physical contact - touching - are better means to so fine an end.

I believe in nothing that I cannot touch, kiss, embrace - whether a woman, a child, a rock, a tree, a bear, a shaggy dog.

The rest is hearsay.

If there is a heaven, an ideal realm beyond space and time, it must contain the hermit thrush.

Otherwise, what good is it?

And there must be trees too, of course.

And mountains.

And a sun that sets each evening and rises each morning.

And winding through the woods, a trail with pine needles, stones, oak leaves, fresh bear shit.


naked cannabis harvest - keeps the animals calm !

We lie in the sunshine, on the warm grass, and stare at the mountains, the endless snow-covered mountains, range after range, standing beyond the dark forest.

The glaciers wink and glitter, running with streams of melted ice.

Flowers and ice, sunlight and snow.

On this bright afternoon, in a field of flowers, Alaska seems to me a cold and somber land.

After thirty-four years in the American Southwest, after too much time spent dawdling about in places like Grand Canyon, Death Valley, the Maze, the Superstition Mountains, the San Rafael Reef and the Waterpocket Fold, the San Juan Mountains and the Gran Desierto, Baja California, Glen Canyon and the Dirty Devil River, Desolation Canyon and the Pariah River, the Book Cliffs and the Kaiparowits Plateau and Big Bend and White Sands, the Red Desert and Black Rock and Barranca del Cobre, Factory Butte and Monument Valley, Slickhorn Gulch, Buckskin Gulch, Thieves' Mountain, Montezuma's Head, Cabeza de Prieta, Cabezon, Telluride and Lone Pine and the Smoke Creek Desert, Moab and Upheaval Dome, White Rim and Druid Arch - to name but a few - and seeing the full moon rise over the 13,000-foot peaks of Sierra La Sal, while the setting sun turns watermelon pink a 2,000-foot vertical wall of sandstone in the foreground, then - and I'll admit I'm spoiled - then by comparison Alaska seems, well, sort of . . . banal.

primitive freedom

My theory is that a vigorous, free, outdoors life is good for humans.

It fills them with cheer and high spirits, leading to health and a long life.

Despite the claims of medical technicians such as Dr. Lewis Thomas, official spokesman for the cancer industry, it is not more and newer drugs we need, not better living through chemotherapy, but rather clean air.

Clean water.

Good fresh real food. And plenty of self-directed physical activity.

Medical science has succeeded in reducing infant mortality rates, thus creating the catastrophe of overpopulation, but it has not - despite medical myth - lengthened the normal life span.

"Three score years and ten," now as in biblical times, remains the norm.

And in fact the longest lived humans on Earth are the primitive peasants of places like Ecuador, the Caucasus Mountains, Afghanistan.

Certainly not the inhabitants of Dr. Lewis Thomas's Sloan-Kettering Memorial Hospital in New York City.

We emerge from one nightmare only to find another threatening to engulf us: the technological superstate, densely populated, centrally controlled, nuclear-powered, computer-directed, firmly and thoroughly policed.

Call it the Anthill State, the Beehive Society, a technocratic despotism - perhaps benevolent, perhaps not, but in either case the enemy of personal liberty, family independence, and community sovereignty, shutting off for a long time to come the freedom to choose among alternate ways of living.

The domination of nature made possible by misapplied science leads to the domination of humans; to a dreary and totalitarian uniformity.

That which today calls itself science gives us more and more information, an indigestible glut of information, and less and less understanding.

Thoreau knew of this tendency and foresaw its fatal consequences.

A frantic busyness ("business") pervades America wherever we look - in city and country, among young and old and middle-aged, married and unmarried, all races, classes, sexes, in work and play, in religion, the arts and the sciences.

We hear the demand by conventional economists for increased "productivity".

Productivity of what?

For whose benefit?

To what end?

By what means and at what cost?

Those questions are not considered.

We are belabored by the insistence on the part of our politicians, businessmen and military leaders, and the claque of scriveners who serve them, that "growth" and "power" are intrinsically good, of which we can never have enough, or even too much. As if gigantism were an end in itself.

The chief reason so many people are fleeing the cities at every opportunity to go camping, canoeing, skiing in the wilds is that wilderness offers a taste of adventure, a chance for the rediscovery of our ancient, pre-agricultural, pre-industrial freedom.

Forest and desert, mountain and this world, when ventured upon in primitive terms, allow us a sort of Proustian recapture, however superficial and brief, of the rich sensations of our former existence, our basic heritage of a million years of hunting, gathering, wandering.

This elemental impulse still survives in our blood, nerves, dreams, and desires, suppressed but not destroyed by the mere five thousand years of agricultural serfdom, a mere two hundred years of industrial peonage, which culture has attempted to impose on what evolution designed as a feeling, thinking, freedom loving animal.

I say culture, not civilization; civilization remains the ideal, an integrated realization of our intellectual, emotional, and physical gifts which humankind as a whole has nowhere yet attained.

The modern urban-industrial world - like the feudal world - offers adventure and freedom to a certain elite, the aristocracy of our time: to the rich, the star athlete, the superstar entertainer, the techno-warrior, the artist arrivi, the successful politician, a few others.

Most, the overwhelming majority, seem condemned to the role of spectators, servitors, dependent consumers.

One exception remains to the iron rule of oligarchy.

At least in America one relic of our ancient and rightful liberty has survived.

And that is - a walk into the woods; a journey on foot into the uninhabited interior; a voyage down the river of no return.

Hunters, fishermen, hikers, climbers, white-water boatmen, red-rock explorers know what I mean.

In America at least this category of experience remains open and available to all, democratic.

It is my fear that if we allow the freedom of the hills and the last of the wilderness to be taken from us, then the very idea of freedom may die with it.

We see a white egret. Another blue heron.

Beaver, buzzards, and bullfrogs.

White clouds passing beyond remote red walls.

From deep in the entrenched meanders of the endless Goosenecks, looking upriver, I catch a glimpse of Muley Point on the rim of Cedar Mesa, three thousand feet above.

We round Mendenhall Bend, where the river winds eight linear miles to advance one-half mile on the map.

On the neck of the stone goose is a little stone cabin, built by a gold prospector named Mendenhall eighty years ago.

Nobody lives there now.

Looking at petroglyphs on a rosy mural wall, I think of the legend of Kokopelli, the hunch-backed flute player of the Anasazi, who visited - when the men were away at war - all the villages of Indian America, from the Yukon to Tierra del Fuego, and left behind a spawn of syphilitic mutants.

"Bill," I say, "what are you so happy about?"

"Nothing in particular," he says. "Everything in general."

I know exactly what he means. The magic of a boat. The splendor of a flowing river.

The freedom of the desert.

Of course a happy man's true paradise is his own good nature.

We pass the mouth of John's Canyon, a hanging canyon, as John Wesley Powell would have labeled it; the pour-off is a limestone ledge fifty feet above the grade of the river.

In a few thousand more years, perhaps, John's Canyon may erode its way down to river level.

Two years ago in March there was a double waterfall pouring from that ledge; this time barely a trickle.

Evenings I spend by a little bed of mesquite coals, under a growing moon, listening for coyote, horned owls, whippoorwills, things that go bump in the night.

For Magic.



And find it, too - all in my own head.

Quietly exultant, we drift on together, not a team but a family, a human family bound by human compassion, through the golden canyons of the River of Sorrows.

So named, it appears, by a Spanish priest three centuries ago, a man of God who saw in our physical world (is there another?) only a theater of suffering.

He was right! He was wrong!

Compassion can defeat that nameless terror.

Caring for one another, we take the sting from death.

Caring for our mysterious blue planet, we resolve riddles and dissolve all enigmas in contingent bliss.

On and on and on we float, down the river, day after day, down to the trip's end, to our takeout point, a lonely place in far western Colorado called Bedrock.

Next door to Paradox.

The Apaches who gave the name to this water and this canyon are not around anymore.

Most of that particular band - unarmed old men, women, children - huddled in a cave near the mouth of Aravaipa Canyon, were exterminated in the l880s by a death squad of American pioneers, aided by Mexican and Papagos, from the nearby city of Tucson.

The walls of Aravaipa Canyon bristle with spiky rock gardens of formidable desert vegetation.

Most prominent is the giant saguaro cactus, growing five to fifty feet tall out of crevices in the stone you might think could barely lodge a flower.

The barrel cactus, with its pink fish-hook thorns, thrives here on the sunny side; and clusters of hedge-hog cactus, and prickly pear with names like clockface and cows-tongue, have wedged roots into the rock.

Since most of the wall is vertical, parallel to gravity, these plants grow first outward then upward, forming right-angled bends near the base.

The prospect at streamside is conventionally sylvan, restful to desert-weary eyes.

Great cottonwoods and sycamores shade the creek's stony shores; when we are not wading in water we are wading through a crashing autumn debris of green-gold cottonwood and dusty-red sycamore leaves. other trees flourish here - willow, salt cedar, alder, desert hackberry, and a category of wild walnut.

Cracked with stones, the nuts yield a sweet but frugal meat.

At the water's edge is a nearly continuous growth of peppery-flavored watercress.

The stagnant pools are full of algae; and small pale frogs, tree frogs, and leopard frogs, leap from the bank at our approach and dive into the water; they swim for the deeps with kicking legs, quick breaststrokes.

We return to the mouth of Aravaipa Canyon.

Halfway back to camp and the canyon entrance we pause to inspect a sycamore that seems to be embracing a boulder.

The trunk of the tree has grown around the rock.

Feeling the tree for better understanding, I hear a clatter of loose stone, look up, and see six, seven, eight bighorn sheep perched on the rim rock a hundred feet above us.

Three rams, five ewes.

They are browsing at the local salad bar - brittlebush, desert holly, bursage, and jojoba - aware of us but not alarmed.

We watch them for a long time as they move casually along the rim and up a talus slope beyond, eating as they go, halting now and then to stare back at the humans staring up at them.

We have earned enough memories, stored enough mental emotional images in our heads, from one brief day in Aravaipa Canyon, to enrich the urban days to come.

As Henry David Thoreau found a universe in the woods around Concord, any individual whose senses are alive can make a world of any natural place, however limited it might seem, on this subtle planet of ours.

"The world is big but it is comprehensible," says R. Buckminster Fuller.

It seems to me that the Earth is not nearly big enough and that any portion of its surface, left unpaved and alive, is infinitely rich in details and relationships, in wonder, beauty, mystery, comprehensible only in part.

The very existence of existence is itself suggestive of the unknown - not a problem but a mystery.

We will never get to the end of it, never plumb the bottom of it, never know the whole of even so small and trivial and useless and precious a place as Aravaipa Canyon.

Therein lies our redemption.

Once during a debate on a land-use controversy a mining claims speculator (not a miner, not an engineer, only a speculator) said to me, "If God hadn't wanted us to dig up that uranium, He wouldn't have put it there." To which I replied, "If God had wanted us to use that uranium, He wouldn't have hidden it underground."

Henry David Thoreau, as usual, perceived the issue clearly: "They go to dig where they never planted," he said of the California Forty-Niners, "to reap where they never sowed."

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

"The treasure which you think not worth taking trouble and pains to find, this one alone is the real treasure you are longing for all your life.

The glittering treasure you are hunting for day and night lies buried on "the other side of that hill yonder." - B. Traven, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Maybe we should all stay home for a season, give our little Western wilderness some relief from Vibram soles, rubber boats, hang gliders, deer rifles, and fly rods.

But where is home?

Surely not the walled-in prison of the cities, under that low ceiling of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides and acid rain - the leaky malaise of an overdeveloped, overcrowded, self-destroying culture - where most people are compelled to serve their time and please the wardens if they can.

For many, for more and more of us, the out-of-doors is our true ancestral estate.

For a mere five thousand years we have grubbed in the soil and laid brick upon brick to build the cities; but for a million years before that we lived the leisurely, free, and adventurous life of hunters and gatherers, warriors and tamers of horses.

How can we pluck that deep root of feeling from human consciousness?


In American literature Henry David Thoreau becomes more significant with each passing decade.

The deeper America sinks into industrialism, urbanism, militarism - with the rest of the world doing its best to emulate America - the more poignant, strong, and appealing becomes Henry's demand for the right of every man, every woman, every child, every dog, every tree, every snail darter, every lousewort, every living thing, to live its own life in its own way at its own pace in its own square mile of home.

Or in its own stretch of river.

Floating down a portion of Rio Colorado in Utah on a rare month in spring, twenty-two years ago, a friend and I found ourselves passing through a world so beautiful it seemed and had to be eternal.

Such perfection of being, we thought - these glens of sandstone, these winding corridors of mystery, leading each to its solitary revelation could not possibly be changed.

The philosophers and the theologians have agreed, for three thousand years, that the perfect is immutable - that which cannot alter and cannot ever be altered.

They were wrong.

We were wrong.

Glen Canyon was destroyed.

Everything changes, and nothing is more vulnerable than the beautiful.

There will always be one more river, not to cross but to follow.

The journey goes on forever, and we are fellow voyagers on our little living ship of stone and soil and water and vapor, this delicate planet circling round the sun, which humankind call Earth.

Our job is to record, each in his own way, this Earth of light and shadow and a time that will never come again exactly as it is today.

civil disobedience is something that is required

Truth threatens power, now and always.

Edward Abbey, from Down the River with Henry

Chinese charater for nature lover


"Truth is always the enemy of power.

and power the enemy of Truth."

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