The first way to care for a place is to take a good look at it.

A few years ago, I found myself in the peculiar position of attempting to teach a workshop on outdoor writing. Amidst a flurry of questions, one in particular gave me pause.

“What can you say that will change the minds of people who don't care about nature?”

It was a question I had no answer to at the time, and one I have thought about many times since.

The truth is, the idea of not caring about the systems that allow us to survive and thrive — mentally and physically — seems foreign to me. For most of my life, I've been incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by people who are enthusiastic about the world around us. For many of them, the sense of wild in this part of the world is why they have chosen to live here.

Over the years, I've come to believe that the answer to that question is one of multiple conditions.

In order to be willing to expend the time, energy, and resources it takes to preserve or restore anything, a person must first love and benefit from what is is they wish to protect. To love a place, one must first engage with it in a way that has personal meaning to them.

One can editorialize until the planet's ink runs dry, but words mean nothing without personal experience.

While I grew up loving the outdoors, it was as a young adult that I began understanding that with the freedom I found in the wild came a certain responsibility. Learning how to accept that responsibility took time. There is no handbook for how to make the world a better place; we are each in charge of writing our own chapter.

I think this is where many people give up. Like the questioner at that workshop years ago, we fall into the trap of believing the battle is changing the minds of others. It is a task that seems insurmountable.

Call it the folly of youth, but I will always come down on the side of hope and hard work. Without that spark of hope, there is nothing left to work for. Enthusiasm may be the best bridge between recreating and volunteering.

Here in the north, we are incredibly fortunate in that our world is still largely pristine. Our headwaters are clean, our air so clear the stars turn the night sky bright, our land still more covered in more forests than civilization, and filled with all the creatures that make this place wild.

Yet there is work to be aplenty, whether it be pulling the invasive plant species sprouting on roadsides and lake shores, or creating solutions to the polluted runoff that ends in our lakes and rivers, or learning more about our wild species in order to make informed management decisions for the future, or even sharing our enthusiasm for nature with the next generation.

In the end, all that really matters is that we do something.

“Being afraid is only the way to be alert, but being hopeful is the way to take action.” —Jose Andres

(Copyright © 2019 APG Media)

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