Why are People Trashing Our National Parks?: A Wilderness Therapist’s Theory

While the government closure goes on into it’s 4th week, the once protected National Parks are left vulnerable without rangers, volunteers, and respectful citizens to protect them.  Like many of my Facebook friends, I’ve been both angrily and sadly watching my feed with updates on more news of parks getting trashed, human waste building up, and even trees being cut down.  Why, why is this happening?  What would make a human so lazy as not pack out their trash, or be so motivated to take a saw into the park and cut down it’s historic trees?

Over the past few years, I’ve been observing and studying what I have dubbed “Mother Nature Attachment Theory.”  This is based on human attachment theory that, in short,  states our earliest relationships to our caregivers affects how we attach, securely or insecurely, in our other relationships throughout life.  In other words, if you have a negative relationship with your mother, or maybe she was never there, or sometimes there, or was always there looking at you for comfort rather than vice versa, then as adult you might either embody these same characteristics or go overboard in the opposite direction.  The underlying feeling left is often one of fear or distrust. (That’s just a brief summary of attachment theory).

(Cuyahoga Valley National Park)

In my own Mother Nature Attachment Theory, I see this in a similar way.  If a child doesn’t grow up spending time outside, climbing trees, building forts with sticks, then the child didn’t grow up with an attachment to Nature.  Or, maybe the child was told “don’t get dirty”, “it’s not safe out there”, and handed an iPad to keep busy, then the child grew up without trusting Nature, and an insecurity to it.  Then, there might be the child who was given a dirt bike before ever taking a hike in the woods, never recycled, or grew up with the perspective from parents that we must dominate Nature.  Again, this kind of relationship creates another form of insecurity.  These types of attachment to Mother Nature create not only a fear but both a disconnection to the land and to the self, for all of us who have grown up with a secure attachment to Nature knows that we are all connected.

If you didn’t grow up with the view that nature is an abstract object, then leaving a wrapper behind is no big deal.  If you grew up fearing nature or with the a privileged view of separate equals better than, than the damage of cutting down a tree might not be worth a second thought.  Actually, those acts might be your way of trying to cope from that missing connection with the Earth.  Temporarily, it might make you feel better.

The sad thing is for the people who grew up with an insecure attachment to Mother Nature is that their outward destruction usually reflects their own inward pain.  While I’ve only been interning as a therapist at a substance abuse center for 6 months now, I’ve clearly witnessed the turmoil many of our clients face from growing up with an insecure attachment to their early caregivers.  Most of them self-destruct with drugs and alcohol, don’t trust others, and don’t trust the world.  It’s a tough, unbearable way to live.  While I’m still angry at the people trashing our National Parks, I can find a little sympathy and sadness for them because I have a sense of what they’re lacking.  Having lived several year’s by Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park and now next to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Parks, I have re-gained a sense of wonder and awe, felt at home, found my Higher Power, and cried in the beauty mountain shadows.  Just thinking of my life without Nature leaves me feeling like I have void centered in my chest.

Rocky Mountain National Park

If your feeling sad or angry about the state of our National Parks, that is actually a positive feeling.   It shows your love and secure attachment to Mother Nature, and a justifiable angst that She is not being respected or taken care of.  These feelings can either eat at us, or motivate us to do something.  What can we do?  For those of us who don’t live by National Parks* and can’t inform visitors or trail or park etiquette at this time (which may be dangerous and I don’t necessarily suggest) or clean up like this little boy, we can support our National Parks with donations, visit them the next time we are on vacation, and speak with our actions by recycling and trying to reduce of consumption of heavily packed products.  We can also get to the heart of the matter by encouraging others to have a secure attachment with Mother Nature.  If we have or work with children it’s a bit easier.  We can encourage kids to get dirty, to sit outside when they need to calm down or had a bad day, or make comparisons like “wow, that flower needs food and water just like I do!”.  It’s a bit trickier with adults, and we already know preaching usually doesn’t work, but we can sneak in comments, maybe at work, such as “Whew! I had a really tough day.  I need to make sure I get outside for a run today.” or “I had a great weekend hiking with my family.  I feel so much more energized now.”  We can also use our actions like recycling or bringing in re-usable silverware to eat lunch with.  If you have time, I suggest volunteering for your local or National Park a few times a year too.

I’m also going to keep praying to my Higher Power, Mother Nature, that the parks re-open ASAP.  And when they do, profusely thank the rangers for all that they do.  I’m going to count my lucky stars (which, by the way, are amazing living right next to a National Park) that I”m blessed enough to live in the mountains and that I grew up with parents who allowed me to play in the mud and build tree forts.  Last, I’n going to try to send a little love to those who haven’t been as blessed, as angry as I am by their actions, because I know what they are doing on the outside is a mirror of what is going on inside.

*While I live right next to Rocky Mountain National Park, I’m very fortunate to not have witnessed any damage from my outings, which may speak to the community of Estes Park whose residents see themselves as the parks caregivers.

**I have to add this Rich Roll podcast with Zach Bush, MD of Food Independence & Planetary Revolution because it is relevant, both from a scientific and spiritual standpoint.

Finding My Way: My Trail through Society

This blog started with a Facebook post, written shortly after returning from a (1-day) trip the mountains (Leadville/Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert):

Every time I come back from the mountains, I ask myself “Why the F did I come back?” (In reality, I know the answer. Society asks that I have a job and a physical place to live). I’m tied between wanting to contribute to society, to make a difference, and the want to escape the complicated and busy structure of our world (of course, it isn’t all bad). Does anyone else face this dilemma?

I have my own further thoughts on this topic (perhaps a future blog post), but I’d love to hear the insight, questions, and wisdom (not necessarily advice) of others who also question this dichotomy.

*I added in the not necessarily advice part later.

I got quite a few replies, some advice, some various perspectives, and mainly a “I feel that way too”.  Which upon reflection, was really what I was looking for.  A sense of universality, that others both felt and questioned (society/life) the way I do.  When I realized the post had gathered some heat/interest and that I personally had more exploring to do as well, I decided to write a bit more.

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8/17

Living in the world, being part of the world, making a difference in the world does not mean, at least for me, living in the confines of society.  That, for myself, is the answer that I have come to, but my conclusion is not so easy to put in words, though I can not say it is complicated either.  It’s just what is.

The dilemma I mention in my Facebook post is not so black and white as it seems.  It is not between being a hermit in the mountains and praying for a better world or living in the city and working in an office for 9 hours.

And, while I do believe energy, prayer, and intention does have an impact on the world, I am not so ethereal to believe that is all that is needed…that I could just live in a cabin and meditate and play outside all day.  I am a big believer in action too.

My work as a (wilderness) therapist will involve both, the energetic and the physical manifesting.

So if I choose to live in the mountains, can I be a giver of both as strongly as if I lived in the city (or in a small city like Boulder)?  Really, that is the heart of my question.

While I believe that the answer is very individual to anyone who asks the question, I’m starting to figure out my own truth.  Admittedly, part of my answer might go against the simplicity I crave (I’m reminded of a particularly sarcastic blog by Dakota Jones on car camping), but modern technology and transportation might help solve some of my conflict, or help me find harmony in the dichotomy.

Then there’s the bigger question.  Despite the fact that humans are living closer than ever before, that wifi and cell phones let us connect to hundreds of people, even across the world, are we becoming more lost, more disconnected? (For more on the topic, read Johann Hari’s book Lost Connections) And not just from other humans, but from the land that bore us too, to our Mother Earth?  Are we supposed to live in apartments, or with the land?  I could go on and on…and on with questions like this.  But I’ll save you my words and ask that you have this conversation with yourself.  And if you don’t find an answer, that is okay.  Just keep questioning, stay curious.  Because while it is the mountains that make my soul sing, and often the cities that make me cringe, I’ve also found profound beauty in the mass humanity of the city street as well.

 

[The Boy just got done finishing the Kodiak 100, a 100 miles race in the San Bernardino mountains, and we were reflecting on his journey on the drive back to the airport.  He said is favorite part was nearly 80 miles in, when he was running down Sugarloaf Mountain and the 50k runners, who had just started, were coming up.  People were smiling, hi-fiving, and struggling, all together.  That, I thought, might be the best of both worlds, the crowds and mountains.  People connecting and encouraging each other while journeying through the wilderness.]

And maybe all this girl really needs is her dog.

 

Tips for returning from the mountains/wilderness:

  • Before you depart from your adventure, ask yourself “What am I bringing back with me?”  Are there any reminders from being in the wilderness that you can bring back with you into everyday life?
  • Create extra awareness on the drive back.  Don’t speed out as fast as you can.  Choose your pace/speed wisely.
  • Use your phone with awareness.  If possible, give yourself sometime before checking your inbox and text messages.
  • Practice self-care.  Take extra time (space) to do things.  Get enough sleep.  In other words, don’t just jump back into the hustle and bustle of life.
  • For long trips, and trying to communicate your experience with family and friends, consciously choose what you share and who you share with.   It is often difficult to communicate the sacred.  (It also often helps to ask what others have been up to first, before diving into your experience.)
  • Remember, continuing change takes time and practice.  If there is something you want to bring back with you, like journaling or slowing down before dinner, create action steps to make them a habit.
  • Be kind to yourself.  Your going to forget.  It will seem like the mountains have left you.  But they never leave you.  They are in you.

Fleeting Beauty

6/29

Yesterday, I turned 30 with Sandi in Chamonix, France.

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Already, the day is nothing but a nostalgic moment. A beautiful memory.  I want to cling to the moment, but as soon as I grasp, it is like a cloud escaping my clenched fist.

I want to go back to the moment, standing on alpine ground with the wildflowers all around.  The marmots hiding behind rocks.  The avalanche in the distance with its powerful sound cracking through the sky.  Witnessing all this with my sister by my side.

Or that moment where we stood inside the glacier, surrounded by icy blue, magical walls.

But those moments, the ones I want to last forever, like when I am in the “land of in-between”*, or on Christmas Eve when I’m surrounded by love ones and joy, that go by so fast.

I try to stay on the mountain top, but the sun moves, the clouds come in, and I grow cold.

It is all impermanent.

I realize all I can do is be present, accept the present that I am in.  To soak it in, and move on with the precious moment now inside of me, part of me.

And I let myself be sad.  When I let the sadness come in, I realize I am also rejoicing.  Rejoicing the blessed and beautiful life I am living.

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Me and my other half on our 30th birthday in Chamonix, France.

*The places between Heaven and Earth.