Last week I managed to find a brief window of sunny skies and relatively mild temperatures to sneak out of the office and make a paddle across the Sinepuxent Bay to the North Point of Assateague Island. It’s a privilege to be able to do this as part of my work, and with each visit I make it a mission to learn something new in hopes that I can share a new story, a new philosophical thought, or even a photograph with folks in an effort to encourage others to utilize the Nature that is around us to learn, better ourselves, and better the planet.
Those who know me or are familiar with Assateague Coastal Trust’s Trash Free Assateague (TFA) campaign know that the North Point of Assateague is the birth place of the TFA program, but it is also a sentimental area of the island which I often visit to gather thoughts, write, and seek refuge for a few hours from the spinning wheels of society. Though it is located just several hundred yards from the concrete beach of Ocean City, the seclusion of Assateague’s northern most extent has a way of invigorating the senses, spawning creativity, and rejuvenating a tired mind.
I grew up surfing in Ocean City, Fenwick, the State Park at Assateague, Chincoteague, and this part of Assateague I habitually refer to as “The North Point,” though it’s genuinely referenced by the surfing community as The Wedge. It was my time in the ocean at The Wedge that I believe put into motion the lifelong habit I’ve carried with me to seek out the more secluded parts of our land. I am always looking for these spaces that tend to be more tucked away than the rest because they offer something that I have yet to find in the busier realms of life that we refer to as society. If you offer your time and respect to these secluded spaces, they will always offer something in return, and I am beginning to hear the voice of our planet much clearer than I did when I was in my youth making paddles across the inlet to surf south swells that would notoriously wedge off the rock jetty.
Now 31, and with a recurring back injury that has significantly reduced my surfing time, I’ve found that the majority of my time is spent contemplating the predicaments of our time and how our society has managed to create the economic, social, and environmental problems with which we are all dealt. That particular day last week, walking along an overgrown trail that meanders through a portion of the North Point’s dune field, I found myself asking a question that I have been trying to clarify for over a year now, and it has to do with the validity of the Trash Free Assateague “campaign” I, almost unintentionally, developed in February of last year. What is the significance of picking up trash? Overflowing landfills, waste incineration, wasteful habits, reduce-reuse-recycle, and, extensively, the debate surrounding plastics have swept the environmental community by storm over the past few years. Why? As I walked over the east side of the dune system, looking out over the Atlantic I peered over at the surf spot that set the compass needle which would direct the path I’d take in life. I thought, here I am with 14 pounds of trash that I’d collected in just 20 minutes without even trying, and I knew that I could come back the following day and do the same thing, endlessly picking up plastic bottle caps, Styrofoam cups, plastics bags, and anything else that has washed up onto the shores of Assateague from days long ago, last year, and the last tide cycle.
Despite all the cleanup efforts underway, it seems that the plastics and trash just keep exponentially accumulating. Why do we continue with these cleanups when there is seemingly no headway being made? Why is it that now, all of a sudden, we are acknowledging the problem of plastics in our environment? We have known for quite some time that plastics in the environment do not behave in a manner conducive to healthy ecosystems, yet, as far as I recollect, I don’t recall the kind of attention just a decade ago that plastics are receiving today. Why? Though I don’t have an explanation for the situation completely figured, and many will argue that my explanation is mere opinion, I believe that what we are witnessing unfold today is absolutely critical to understand and necessary to address the much larger problem at play. The root of the problem lies in our societies disconnect from the rest of Nature and the manner in which time has permitted generations of out of balance ways of living to permeate culture. Before I expand on that, I should clarify that we as individuals are not the primary guilty party in this case of economic, social, and environmental disarray, but rather willing, and some unwilling, victims of a system that has been manipulated by greed for corporate profits and short sighted “progress.” We have found ourselves in a tumultuous sea with money and politics sailing the ship.
Plastic is merely representative of the society we have created, and our planet is coughing up the poly virus we transmitted to it. Trash, plastic, littering. These are arguably the easiest environmental issue to understand. We learn, or should learn, not to litter when we’re children. It’s the first environmental ethic we acquire as kids, and yet the plastic problem today is becoming increasingly pervasive. Perhaps the plastic crises, with its images of large tracts of Ocean clogged with a plastic goo, emerging science that reveals the drastic health concerns associated with plastic once it enters the food web, and the inability of communities, cities, states, and nations to agree on how to property handle all the single use plastic is, in some way which I continue to understand, our planet’s way of demonstrating how our out of balance lifestyles are sickening the one and only planet with which we depend on, all the while sickening ourselves the further removed we are from a natural means of living.
If we think about the plastic crisis along the same lines as the difficulty many of us in modern day society are confronted with when it comes to seeking out a modest, comfortable living, the root of the problem begins to become more apparent, and we can better understand why our planet is slowly being poisoned, and why it is so difficult for us as individuals to change the course we’re heading.
Plastic has only been around for approximately 150 years, and it wasn’t until World War II when the idea of plastic’s ability to make our lives easier and more convenient was sold to us. The throw away, single use plastic concept that developed post WWII invaded our everyday lives, and so began the plastic addiction. We are now in a period where nearly everyone, whether they are genuinely concerned about the plastic issue or not, is aware of the label that has been placed on plastic. Most of us are aware of the harm plastic inevitably causes on our environment, and a growing number of us are now learning about the health implications of plastic. To that extent, plastic continues to dominate the products we consume. Like the opioid crisis that has swept our country, the plastic crisis has swept the globe because our way of living has grown so accustomed to the kind of convenience that was sold to us, and now that convenience is almost necessary in order to survive the fast-paced societies that have developed as technologies continue to change our world.
What has happened to our control over our own lives? Some may argue that we, as individuals, have the power to choose plastic or the planet. But I feel that this kind of “green” approach to the problem is attainable only by those who are much more financially stable than others in society that face the challenge of financial security, and as such, it is a biased argument. Green is in, and because it can be sold, the driving components of the market economy saw an opportunity, took advantage, and utilizes our desire for a healthier planet to capitalize upon. Too often I witness the haves pointing at the have nots for the planet’s environmental issues. Those that have secured a comfortable living financially are able to allocate their attention and excess money to other matters, such as those that the green trends portray. Then there are those that struggle to make ends meet and secure that comfortable lifestyle. They live most of their lives allocating their attention to surviving and simply cannot join the greenies because the market economy has placed a biased price tag on supposed means to a cleaner planet.
Today the allure of an off the grid lifestyle is becoming ever more prevalent. Ironically, that manner of living, getting back to Nature, and sustainable living is sold to us by the very market economy that stole that way of living from us in the first place. All of us want a simpler way of life, and the fact that obtaining it has become increasing difficult and out of reach in a technologically driven, convenience oriented market economy that our society thrives on is evidence that there must be a change in how our society thrives, how it operates, and what drives it if we are going to make any headway on the slew of problems today, including plastics. As individuals, we must take it upon ourselves to produce this change by our own action, ethics, and morals. It will be slow, it will be difficult, it will be challenged. It will take perseverance on behalf of each of us.
As individuals, as neighbors, as communities, as human beings we must acknowledge that we can break the mold that we’ve been taught to bend to, and we can begin by working toward a modest lifestyle and learning to listen to and respect the land. Without a doubt, when the masses learn to get back to Nature, the morals and ethics that have dissipated through the decades will be rekindled.
For thirty-five days the United States Government shut down. The inability of “leaders” of the free world to come to an agreement on the appropriation of funds led to the closure of the Internal Revenue Service, NASA, the Department of Labor, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Education, the Department of Energy, the EPA, and the Food and Drug Administration. Arguably, the shutdown effected the lives of everyone a part of the nation’s society, and those tied to our society at some capacity. From home buyers that waited on federal mortgage loans, graduate students delayed in research efforts as they anticipated federal grants, to air travelers placed at higher risk as airport security suffered, and as the hundreds of thousands of federal employees that went without paychecks for a month, some of the effects of the shutdown are obvious, and the less obvious, I believe, will soon surface with time. From December 21st until January 25th, my attention was not so much focused on the politics associated with the shutdown, but with the underlying root cause/s for the event. The philosophy that has emerged from that month long period of observing, listening, and contemplating the government shutdown, its causes, its effects, and the reaction to it is what follows.
The recent government shutdown that unfolded near the end of December through the better part of January revealed several significant complications that each and every one of us should acknowledge. If these complications are heeded appropriately, perhaps our society and others will begin to heal from the moral and ethical degradation that has occurred. Maybe you recognize the complications, and probably you witnessed additional aspects that have been left out here. It is important to remember the value of perseverance over the value of money.
Since December 21st, we have all been influenced by the shutdown to some extent. For some, the inability of a government to thrive under moral terms and ethical approaches brought with it the early stages of hardship. For many of us, it has exacerbated the social and civil turmoil that permeates our society and which decades of unethical and out of touch politics have created. For all, the 2018-2019 shutdown resides as a period in history that we should forever recognize as a moment to reflect on ourselves. That is, our moral and ethical stance. We are currently in a position to define who we are as individuals and the kind of society with which we want to associate. Again, it is important to remember the value of perseverance over the value of money.
Despite the attitude and debate that has transpired with the shutdown, we are all living in a moment that is prime to rekindle our independence as individuals. This shutdown has demonstrated that, as individuals, we have become far too dependent on Government. This isn’t to say that a governing body has no place in society. Surely with an ever-increasing population there will be ever increasing issues that an organized body of governance will need to address. The problem is that the system in place today has traded ethics, morals, and common sense in a rigged race for “progress,” with greed fueling the competitors.
In keeping with the philosophy of The Marsh, and utilizing it as a way to encourage readers to evaluate their relationship with Nature and immerse themselves back into a more meaningful life by learning to listen and understand the language of Nature, let’s ask ourselves, what is money to Nature? If we think of Nature as the naturally physical and biological that make up the world we know, we find that we are just as much a part of Nature as, say, the birds and forests. Oddly enough, however, we know that other than sharing time on this Earth with those birds and forests, we are very different. There is a government among Nature, and we might point to the laws of Nature, call it “Nature’s way,” or relate the challenges of life to the phrase coined by 19th century philosopher, Herbert Spencer, “survival of the fittest.” Though our disconnect from Nature and the causes for that disconnect could be explained through a complex history, it is greed that, as it slowly seeps into society and influences generations of individuals, acts to separate us from that other part of Nature which we have cast aside and regarded as separate.
What is money to Nature? Our civility has been defined by the personal value we’ve given to the idea of money. It is this value that has led to our slow separation from the rest of Nature, seemingly creating a world within Nature, but completely separate from it. The irony here is that it is the challenges we face as humans that is a result of living in this world separate from Nature, but still guided by its laws. To that end, what is money to Nature?
Our time in this life is but a blip in Nature’s time, yet we are living in a moment to reflect and ask ourselves what we value. Though it is money that we all seemingly live our entire lives chasing after to survive, most of us value something much more real and personally meaningful than the idea of money. We can find that meaning in Nature, for it is the rawness, the hardiness, and the endurance of the Nature we find ourselves surrounded by that is reality, and it justifies our fascination with this seemingly other world.
The idea of money, and the drastic attempts to secure and ensure more of it has been the demise of many societies throughout history. If the greed that has swept over our government like a wildfire is not soon at least partially controlled, the very money fueling it, we will soon realize, is valueless when we’re left trying to live in a world absent of ethics and morals. Our nation’s debt is now at approximately $21 trillion. Money is a loose conception, an idea. When it’s gone, Nature, that part that we have largely separated ourselves from, will persevere.
The 2018-2019 government shutdown has revealed some prominent aspects of society, the politics that dictate it, and the individuals a part of it. And, despite the dark side that the shutdown has exposed, real individuals, armed with the right ethical approach, a set of morals, and good hearts persevered in the absence of a functioning government.
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The journal excerpts to follow reflect the human challenge, Nature’s challenge, the idea of purpose, and acknowledging how to understand and persevere during our time in this life.
7:08 am: Sunrise: 1/29/19
West side of the Sinepuxent Bay looking east down the cut of an inlet. The sun appears from the horizon, separating two very different worlds. One is occupied by the individuals struggling to find meaning in a world that has poisoned itself with greed, and the other that struggles to remain a reminder that there is something much bigger, much more powerful, and far more important than the riches which greed has encumbered us with.
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We are all struggling to survive. It is how we meet that struggle that defines us. One must only silence a busy brain and observe to understand.
An old man splits firewood on the side of his property tucked away in the woods, as a turkey buzzard soars overhead, scanning the ground below to take back what the Earth has let go.
A white BMW speeds through an intersection, its driver dressed in a suit heading for his next meeting. A Bluetooth set reminding him of the riches he must chase.
A father and his boy returning from a cold afternoon duck hunt on the Sinepuxent Bay. The driver watching the father and son is reminded of the life he traded for man’s riches.
A tall stranger contemplates these things, gazing toward the island once referred to by Natives as “A Place Across.”
The sound of waves gently greeting a bulkhead as the January wind challenges the sea birds’ afternoon patrol. A couple is gathered at the same precipice, oblivious to the grandeur around them as they peruse online shopping carts.
Two worlds, seemingly a part of one, but all together separate.
The healthy fear we once had for Nature has been replaced by society’s distorted view of progress. It is the fear we once had of Nature that led to our ability to build better shelters, more efficiently obtain food and water, and successfully move across the land with greater efficiency. Protecting ourselves from the elements, ensuring an adequate supply of food for energy, and the ability to migrate and explore our land are commendable, key marked traits for any species. A healthy fear of Nature also drove our development and advances in science. Gifted individuals throughout history were aware that fear is not knowing, and by understanding our world better through the lens of science, we can develop a healthy fear, and hence a more harmonious relationship with Nature. A respect for the world we live in is achieved and rooted in a healthy fear of the Nature which we share time with on this Earth.
When the idea of progress was replaced by the belief that we have control over Nature, an imbalance developed and a disconnect between our societies and Nature was put in to motion. The point in our history when this took place is open to debate. More than likely, it was a gradual process of misguided actions that culminated to stain our relationship with our environments. Regardless of when and where our disconnect with Nature took place, a healthy fear among society and Nature disappeared in a cloud of perceived power and dominance over the land, the rest of its species, and even other human races. A respect was lost.
Our homes, the manner in which we obtain food and water, and transportation sources now are no longer moving us in a direction of progress. They are pushing us to the edge of global environmental destruction, and science, as it always has, is serving as our lens to view and understand the drastic changes happening around us. Neglecting the valid, real science that is in place and revealing how our far reaching, over abundant lifestyles are adversely affecting the only planet we are capable of surviving on is nothing short of ignorance, and shameful. To further dramaticize our predicament as a species here, the individuals that have remained true to themselves and their land, and acknowledge their place in Nature through an unspoken respect by living within reasonable means of themselves, and the Earth, are at a disadvantageous number. Thoreau once said that “the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.” There are simply too few of us leading our own lives, and too many of us being led by a society that has gone astray, chasing after a distorted view of progress.
This is not to say that our worldly affairs and individual predicaments are purely a result of our own making. Most of us are in a state of quiet desperation, longing to escape from a system preconceived by a small percentage of individuals through history that have been short sighted in their actions and orders, and deployed power without moral or ethical understanding. The result is a society that sells us on the idea that we need certain things in our lives to thrive. We are led to believe that incorporating new things into our lives is necessary and representative of progress.
Convenience, and many “conveniences” that our first world societies find themselves with, and, I would argue, find themselves encumbered with, are a result of this distorted view of progress. Take, for example, the role of bottled water in many individuals’ every day lives. When the idea of selling bottled water was first introduced, it was initially received as comical. Overtime, as corporations, and eventually, society, continued to push the convenience of bottled water on us, consuming an adequate amount of water each day and consuming it in plastic bottles became synonymous in much of the public eye. Today, what we are left with is a society addicted to single use plastics and a growing environmental threat to our oceans, waterways, and the biologic community as the dangers associated with plastic and its chemical components are being better understood.
The single use plastic issue that has swept environmental organizations and the “green” community by storm is only the tip of the iceberg (pun intended) when it comes to convenience, perceived progress, and how the ethics and immoral power behind them are leading to overwhelming environmental, political, and human affairs, and a chaotic, threatening change in climate. It is one problem in a sea of many. It is on the same spectrum of our environmental issues, but on the complete opposite side of that spectrum when it comes to climate change.
The argument here would be that the conveniences, such as bottled water, are necessary in today’s busy, crowded world. I would counter this allegation by pointing to the faced paced, unreasonable time constraint we’ve created for ourselves as technology has infiltrated our lives. “The systems underpinning today’s global financial markets, businesses, militaries, police forces, and medical, energy and industrial operations are all dependent upon networked AI of one type or another,” a report written by Janna Anderson, Lee Raire, and Aley Luchsinger and published by the PEW Research Center. The report addresses the rise of artificial intelligence and potential consequences that may unfold as AI continues to increase. The report details a conference that took place this past summer, in which nearly 1000 technology pioneers, innovators, developers, business and policy leaders, researchers and activists were posed the question: “As immerging algorithm-driven artificial intelligence continues to spread, will people be better off than they are today.” A similar question most of us have had to arbitrarily mull over at some point in the past decade or two.
The consensus among nearly all correspondence in the report was that each and every single one of us must ask ourselves what kind of world we want to live in. Barry Chudakov, founder and principal of Sertain Research, says that “AI and related technology systems constitute a force for a moral renaissance. We must embrace that moral renaissance, or we will face moral conundrums that could bring about human demise.” Batya Friedman, human computer interaction professor at University of Washington’s Information School, stated, “our scientific and technological capacities have and will continue to far surpass our moral ones – that is our ability to use wisely and humanely the knowledge and tools that we develop…At stake is nothing less than what sort of society we want to live in and how we experience our humanity.”
AI, I would argue, is largely responsible for the conveniences of today, and it has sped up our lives to the point that we are being forced to live in a time constraint which the rest of Nature is unfamiliar with, and separate from. James Scofield O’Rourke, a contributor to the PEW report and professor of management at the University of Notre Dame says that “the answer to whether we’ll be better off depends entirely on us.” Quoting a Shakespeare line he states, “the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
Nature’s loudest voice, that which is screaming at us to halt the over indulging, disconnected lives we’re leading comes in the way of our latest understanding of climate and how it is changing. As our climate changes, we will be forced to change many aspects of our lives. It then will be apparent that the power we believe we can exert over Nature simply exacerbates the situation, as it is already beginning to demonstrate. Our practices are out of balance with the rest of Nature. Earth, though, is capable of finding a balance, and it does so through a medium every individual past, present, and future experiences. That medium is weather. Nature’s means of balancing out imbalances. Our planet, Nature is telling us that we’re no longer progressing. We are regressing, and at some point we will again acknowledge the absolute necessity of having a healthy land when our resources are not enough and our ability to thrive is jeopardized.
At some point, when will we ask ourselves how convenient is too convenient? As a species, we think of ourselves as having evolved to such an extent that our advances exceed that of any other on the planet. But those advances led to more and greater conveniences, which, over time, have resulted in our inability to thrive in the absence of those conveniences. Our modern day conveniences have bred modern day individuals that are tasked with the challenge of thriving with modest tools and conveniences. The challenge presents itself because many of the skills necessary to thrive with a modest approach to life have largely been lost as the idea of progress has been distorted.
As a society, we must all revisit the idea of progress and drastically adjust our lifestyles and ethics if a balance is to be achieved and our current state of affairs is to be mended. As individuals, we must demand ethic from those making the decisions that are having direct impacts on this planet and those inhabiting it.
The “we,” “us,” and “our” here is not all encompassing, but references society as a whole, and there are certainly individuals and other societies around the globe that know modesty and have managed their conveniences wisely. They thrive with the land. Being the smaller percentage of the population, unfortunately it is the mass of men and their unsustainable view of progress that will continue to provoke the escalating number of environmental and human affairs should the practices of today go unchecked.
Within each of us, there is a language we once knew. It bound us to the land, and served as our lens to see and understand the ways of our natural world. That lost language showed us our place and purpose among Nature.
To demonstrate, take some time to reflect on those moments when we’re aware of our presence among the grandeur. We document that moment, often with a photograph, only later to find out that a photograph doesn’t capture the essence of the experience. This is the language of the natural world. Attainable only by our will to let go of our pre conceived notions, pride, and comforts in an effort to open our minds to the universe with hopes that our souls will know when to dance. It’s a language we can only understand by being in that moment and listening to a voice that has the power to briefly take us back to a world that is both familiar, and unknown. It is a primitive world, and one which each of us has the ability to connect with on a deep, and very real level. That voice is our Nature. It is the Earth. It is a world separate from ours, but one that chooses when and where we have the opportunity to step over and into the other side, even if for only a brief moment.
Near the end of this past September I was on my third visit of four in Shenandoah National Park when I began developing a refined perspective that has strengthened my respect for all the wild that makes up our natural world. The lost language revealed itself and it will forever remain with me, residing as a guide along life’s trail of unknowns.
Scribblings of perspective from a campground:
A weather system has moved over the mountain. There’s a steady cold rain tonight that refuses to heed our wishes for a dry camp. Sitting beside the heat of a fire and gazing into the depth of the woods adjacent to what we’ll be calling home for the next few days, I find myself listening to this voice of a separate world that encircles the camp. I’m trying to understand the language of our natural world. It’s a humbling voice I hear, and one that speaks of our relation to it, and how we have segregated ourselves from it. I gaze into the deep forest as a heavy fog begins to blanket our side of the mountain and a falling sun signals the end of a day. Darkness has fallen. And the wild world around me instills a sense of loneliness. As if looking down from the tops of the trees onto my own campsite, I see myself sitting by the fire, contemplating the way of things, the universe, looking out into the woods, comforted and terrified at the same time. I find comfort in my fire, the automobile I used to get here, the best outdoor equipment you can buy, a loving girlfriend, and a liberal cup of bourbon, and at the same time I’m longing to step over and into that other side. My soul burns to escape the world our species has created. I feel restless and want to walk off and into that unknown, because the answers, I know, are just past the last tree I see on the horizon. But then, learning more of the language with each prevailing breeze, I hear the voice, and the forest tells me I should learn a little bit at a time. The time to step across that line and into this other world separate from mine is not now. There is much to learn before we find the end of the trail.
Fire is stoked for a couple more minutes, just long enough to sift through some of the thoughts and questions I have now that this conversation with a forest has come to an end. A tip of the hat to Nature. Always offering advice and giving us the answers we need. I have mine for the moment. Off I head to the comforts of a tent. A new day, new conversations, and new contemplation await. There is much to learn and wisdom to acquire in this quest to understand the lost language of our natural world.
Let’s lend an ear to Nature. I believe she has a few things to say:
I’ve been watching for some time now, your unsustainable ways and overwhelming lust for progress. Progress once represented the improvement of your species’ livelihood through better health, happiness, and efficiency. It now is regarded amongst your fellows as material position, power, and wealth. I suppose I could see it coming long ago. I only wish more of you could have acknowledged the path you were heading on earlier.
Now, you are all beginning to see your faults and how you have given me so much trouble. So, I should at least extend a thank you for acknowledging what you’ve done to me. You attempt to try and heal my oceans by implementing rules and regulations for others, but at the end of the day you continue your habitual practices that seem to contradict your own efforts. Through agendas and the lust for self image, you try to scrub my skies clean of the carbon and airborne pollution with which you plague my atmosphere, only to pump out more carbon and pollution as you go about your life neglecting any conversation with me, simply because you feel you can survive without listening to me. You have developed an army you call environmental, yet, because you don’t want to talk with me (or maybe you’ve forgot how), you use this army as a way to shift the blame of lifestyle habits on others so you can continue with yours and still call it ok.
I will always be here to talk to you in hopes you’ll begin to understand my language. We can work together, and, because we are a part of each other, eventually there will be no other choice but to work together. Once it was said of me that I always win, that I always find a way. I’d refer to such statements as collected wisdom, gained by listening to my voice and learning my language. Set aside the distractions of progress. Your progression is now regression, and it’s keeping us from developing the harmonious relationship we once had. The mental ability of your species developed long ago to exceed that of any other in my biologic community. Use that gift to work with me. Your progress and the tools that stand testament to it will not help heal our wounds unless those using the tools and pushing the progress are doing so while learning my language and believing in my voice. The more distant our relationship becomes, the more difficult it will be to learn my language, and the more convoluted your life here will be.
My ancient forests tell you that time is relevant. My weather speaks of the delicate balance of everything that I am. My seas describe the energy and power needed to ensure our biologic world survives. My mountains and deserts convey my life’s history and offer lessons learned from the past.
Together, we’ve always had our differences, but so too have I with my other living things. Survival of the fittest? Wisest? You once thought for yourself and persevered. You lead yourself and your family. You didn’t put your faith in one man, or one politician, or one group to help see you through life’s challenges. You were capable of learning my ways, and for that you sustained yourself. It was a healthy balance for both of us. That’s all for now. We’ll talk soon.
Understanding The Language Of Our Natural World is the latest contribution to The Marsh and will be available as a three part series over the course of the next three weeks. Inspiration for this piece comes from several trips over the past year to the mountains that lie within Shenandoah National Park. This is perception from the periphery of a campground.
Understanding The Language Of Our Natural World: Part I
It’s been one year since The Marsh was introduced to Assateague Coastal Trust. Since its inception, a prominent philosophy has developed. It is this philosophy, the idea that Nature speaks to us and is here to guide us through the long journey and many challenging roads that we face in this life, that has become The Marsh. One concept in particular that characterizes each piece of The Marsh is the disconnect that exists between people and Nature. It is Nature that is the substance that creates the world we know. If we look at our relation to the natural world over the course of human history, it is quite apparent that the majority of our species has gradually become further disconnected from the very Nature which we are a part. We have evolved in such a way that the current generation of people have lost much of their ability to understand the language of our natural world. As the most technologically advanced species, our modern day conveniences have significantly impaired our ability to listen and learn from Nature. As creature comforts slowly evolve into our daily lives, our ability to immerse ourselves into Nature becomes increasingly difficult. Our problems of today, of the past, and in the future are a result of a lack of understanding the language of our natural world.
Arguably, we are the most intellectually developed species on this planet. Because of this, it should not be a surprise that we are responsible for, on a global level, environmental degradation, extinction of species, religious and political confrontation, and the many other challenges today that stem from one or more of these undesirable circumstances. We call it facts of life. It should be called the unfortunate results of the disconnect between man and his Nature. The power of the human mind and its capabilities in the face of life challenges will naturally result in a multitude of ways to handle those challenges. Some of those ways acknowledge our part in Nature and duties within it and they are implemented in a manor that, with the best of intentions, serves to improve conditions for all parties involved. But the problem today, that which involves the environment, politics, and individual human affairs are a result of too many neglecting a chance to learn and understand the lost language of a natural world. Too busy and tired are we in our efforts to overpower our own devices and create new vices.
This is not to say a mending of our relation to Nature is impossible. We are living in an interesting, and very critical period with circumstances in place that will either improve our species’ connection to the Earth and all elements that make it alive, thrive, and captivating, or be the cause for continued and escalating problems in all affairs political, economical, environmental, and individual. The primary circumstance in place that I believe has a chance to better the world is our love affair with Nature. Nature, since the beginning of time, has always had a mystical allure on us. But today, Nature has a greater pull on our spirit than at any other time in history because our relationship with it has become gradually more distant. That burning desire we have for Nature and all of its splendor is evident in the mass number of people that visit our nations parks each year. It’s evident in our wander lust to travel, explore, and experience this vast world. It’s evident in our media, filled with images of wildlife and breath taking landscapes. Ironically, but ever more pervasive, it’s even evident in our market economy, using Nature and the lure it has on us as a way to sell products and services. Perhaps we want what we feel we can no longer have? Perhaps the wrong folks are more aware of our desperate desire to get back to and understand Nature. Think REI and their efforts to persuade us that a three hundred dollar fleece will get us to the top of a granite outcrop in the Sierras. Think automobile commercials that suggest the latest Jeep Wrangler will enable us to finally “get out there” and explore the rough terrain.
There is a dichotomy in the evolution of our species. Our progress has led to many luxuries that have made it easier for us to put ourselves out there in that world seemingly separate from our own. We have transportation that can get us to the secluded wild places many of us long for. Technological advances are now in place that make adventuring into the wild less of a gamble in terms of our survival in the face of the many dangers that characterize our natural world.
Our present circumstance, with our abilities and knowledge, should not be taken for granted. We are living in a period of history with tools and resources in place that serve to help us relearn the language of Nature by immersing ourselves in it, listening to it, and working with it harmoniously. It would be one of our civilizations greatest failures should we continue to neglect the voice of our planet with so much opportunity for harmonious balance placed at our feet. Long ago the wild of our natural world was something often feared. We once had an instinct, a sense that enabled us to read our physical and biological environment better than that of today. Such an instinct would be necessary for our survival. This ability to listen to our natural world gradually evolved to become absent from much of today’s human race as we discovered a new ability to separate ourselves from Nature and the time with which it functions. A local high school English literature teacher, Jeffery Phillips, summarizes this dichotomous course of human history when he states that “we pass our days inside or in cars or airplanes and miss the rhythms that the natural world used to force on us.” Phillips points out that we were once at the mercy of the many moods of our natural world, stating “you planned your trips around the wind, the rain, and the tides, and as a result were more connected with those natural phenomena than we are today.” Then, our energies were dictated by a fear of the natural world. Now, with all of our advances, we are in a position where we can turn fear into respect by listening to this planet. Nature’s time doesn’t wait. Let’s not mess this up.
It’s a peculiar thing, weather. It is quite possibly the greatest dictator of our known universe. Think about the power and control it has over nearly every aspect of life on this planet as we know it. From shaping the many landscapes spread across Earth, to its ability to influence human behavior. Some of us are more aware of weather than others, and all of us are at its mercy. Weather has fascinated me since I was a child. The enormity of it, and the energy it carries is the reason I made the decision to study weather through undergrad and graduate school. I see weather not just in its physical form, but weather as a spiritual form. It is Nature in its most grandeur. It is the authoritarian of our Natural World. Weather not only shapes our one and only planet, it serves to show us our strengths as human beings, as well as our weaknesses. Weather shows us where we’ve come from, and the direction we’re headed.
Hurricane Florence exemplified the physical and spiritual form which weather can embody. Another means for Nature to speak to us, the spiritual side of weather events like Hurricane Florence serve to show each of us who we are as a species on a planet among many.
Florence exposed just how close we are to an environmental disaster as it flooded inland coal ash ponds and hog waste lagoons. Florence demonstrated the social inequalities and desperate situation our society as a whole has created between race and class as children and adults looted a dollar general. Florence revealed the prevalent and ever increasing false side of journalism and media sources as a reporter braced against the wind perpetrating a violent wind as teenagers casually walked by in the background. Florence proved how disconnected we are from our environment as a leader showed more concern for personal image during a major weather event than for victims of flooding. Florence showed that within many of us, there is a desire for compassion as people across the state of North Carolina reached out to help those in need.
A common philosophy unique to The Marsh is that Nature exists for us to learn from. The answers we’re seeking reside everywhere in Nature, and they are revealed to us in many ways. One only needs to brief the history of science to acknowledge how the natural world has disclosed many of life’s secrets and solutions to problems our civilization is seeking, as well as the many solutions it’s not seeking. Be it a grain of sand or a barrier island, a lone tree in the middle of a field or thousands of acres of old growth forest, a solo egret among brackish pools in a marsh or thousands of migrating barn swallows, a brief passing shower or a hurricane spanning hundreds of miles across a vast ocean, our one and only Earth is trying to work with us. Speaking to us through an abnormally changing climate and the weather patterns associated with a changing planet, it’s time for us to wake up and begin working with the natural order of things, and correct what we’ve manipulated.
Florence was just one storm, but the messages it conveyed would serve our civilization well for a lifetime if heeded in the way Nature intended. There have been countless other weather events in history. The Superstorm of 93, regarded as one of the worst storms of the 20th century. Hurricane Katrina in 2005, understood to be the costliest in history and one of the five deadliest Hurricane’s on record. Hurricane Wilma in 2005, which showed off her intensity at 889 millibars of pressure. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900, which went down in the books as the deadliest U.S. hurricane. Each serving its purpose to not just transport energy from one part of the globe to another in the form of weather systems, but to serve as reminders that our species among all others on Earth has the ability to make this place a better place to live, or to continue about our habitual ways as the water slowly rises. We are at a crossroads in the middle of time. It is time we start being serious about what this planet is telling us, and begin working toward balance, or weather, Nature’s authoritarian, will continue to balance out the imbalance.
The excerpt to follow is the prelude to a new project I’ll be tasking myself with over the course of the next several months, a year? A side project, this is the beginning of Chasing The Horizon, an autobiography with philosophical elements that will also be complimented with an instrumental album by the same title. The intention in creating this project is that through music and literature, I can tell a story that will inspire everyday people to explore the natural world for its answers, and encourage individuals to listen to their souls. Such is the way we should travel through the journey of life.
There are moments in life that Nature has specifically selected for each of us. They are the gifts, the people, and the events placed along our individual paths in life. There are many gifts, people, and events that cross our path. The ones in this story are those that Nature has placed before us. They are the very special gifts, the extraordinary people, and those life events that make a lasting mark on our souls.
I believe it is what you call wisdom, in that it is as we age, those that learn to recognize these gifts, people, and events are the wise. I suppose this would be my definition of wisdom. The story I’m going to tell is about the collection of wisdom. My hope in writing this is that the reader may, after having a glimpse at my path, have a little more light shone on theirs. Life is ever challenging, but life will be enriched for those who learn the ways to wisdom as they navigate a path to the next part of the journey.
As I continue to work on Chasing The Horizon, I will make certain excerpts from the book, available as posts in The Marsh. I hope you enjoy…
This piece of art, created by environmentalist Rob Arnold (Cornwall, United Kingdom) is a representation of the famous Easter Island heads, created from a piece of syrofoam that had washed ashore of the bay Arnold calls home. It is "decorated" in micro plastics that he collected on that same beach. The irony? If you're not familiar with the history of Rapa Nui, just look around at the environmental issues of today, or perhaps watch the news. Though there is still some debate on the particulars, research shows that the advanced civilization that once inhabited Rapa Nui neglected their environment in a narrow minded vision of progress without acknowledging how important a healthy land is to the success of every species.
Are we so hell bent on pushing ahead for more materialistic success that we forget the lessons of the past? If we as a species do not heed the lessons of the past, a collapse far greater than that of Easter Island is imminent.
Simply put, we are out of balance with Nature, and as population increases, resources dwindle, and environmental issues escalate, we'll continue down the same path as that of Rapa Nui's long ago residents. We need to change our attitudes about our place on this Earth, and the way our lifestyles reflect our relation to the environments which we depend.
A dark image, but sometimes the only way to change the attitudes and actions of people.
We'll be showcasing this particular piece along with a few others at Assateague Island National Seashore's visitor center next month as we collaborate with the international Splash Trash organization. Date, time, and additional details about the Splash Trash Art Expo Assateague Coastal Trust will be hosting are available on the Trash Free Assateague calendar page HERE!
“Hello, Nature, show me what you’re doing.”
Before I delve into the deeper part of this piece, let me begin with a tip of the hat to our National Parks, State Parks, Refuges, Wilderness Areas, Preserves and Reserves, and to all those that dedicate their lives to any and all spaces that foster Nature and share its splendor. These spaces are our most precious resource in today’s tumultuous world. They reside as symbols of hope in a time of uncertainty.
As a whole, our species has been manipulated to believe we can thrive separate from and without Nature. We are just as much a part of Nature as the animals and trees around us, and, therefore, our relationship with Nature and our actions in this life have a direct, and returning result on our own lives. Nature is our life source. As we become further disconnected from it, the problems in today’s world will only be exacerbated.
I have seen it in the images captured by those in the air. I have seen it on the mountain sides far in the distance. I have witnessed it in cities as it glares at oblivious passerby. I feel it everywhere. We are living in a world that has been fragmented by the actions of our own species. We have fragmented our land, and we have fragmented our relation to the very Nature of which we are a part.
The reality of all of this became very apparent during a trip to Buffalo, New York. I started noticing how the attitude of people varied significantly based on the space they were in at the time. Those that were physically closer to Nature than others tended to exhibit a more calm and collective demeanor. They seemed happier, less agitated, and more caring than those I watched stroll through the streets, in and out of bars and businesses, pre occupied with the countless distractions of today’s modern society. Though Nature Space is often difficult to find in our bigger cities, it is most certainly present, and if you pay attention, it exhibits many of the qualities that exist in the much larger Nature Spaces of the world.
For those that know me, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that even the thought of a city gives me anxiety, and I’m generally apprehensive to visit them. On the rare occasions I do explore them, I make a valiant effort to seek out the small Nature Spaces that do exist within the confines of concrete, steel, and glass. I found several of these spaces during my time in Buffalo, and at each space, I found the same kind of energy that brings people true happiness. The happiness I am referring to is that which evokes kindness, and instills a sense of contentment among those that pay attention to these spaces. I truly believe that when this kind of happiness is found, the change our world is looking for, and the change it desperately needs will come easily.
The statements to follow describe some of the connective experiences I had during my time in Buffalo. I should point out that these experiences occurred for one person, in a small geographical area with limited Nature Space, and over the course of only three and a half days. Imagine the plethora of answers, enlightenment, and genuine happiness that would come if more of these Nature Spaces were available for the entire human population to experience.
June 6, 18 Wednesday morning, 6:36 am: At this hour of morning, the city is as quite as I can hope for so I’m taking advantage with a cup of coffee and a curious stroll down a street that, I hope, will lead to more familiar grounds. I come to a stop at the ground floor of a massive building. What I see is repulsive, but, after gazing at these symbols of hope, I somehow manage to recognize a sense of my place in the world and I’m encouraged to tell their story and the answers they want to show us. These wild animals behind the glass of what is a closed trophy hunting showcase room are on display behind doors that never opened during my time in New York. They were trapped in the city, out of their natural habitat, and among the uncomfortable confines of an over urbanized land. I can’t help but feel the same way they would, and I hastily begin looking for the nearest trail, park, Nature Space that I can steal away to for more answers.
June 7, 18 Thursday afternoon sometime: I’ve found an outdoor courtyard, I suppose you would call it, that has several landscaping trees, a raised bed of blooming flowers, and two small birds I presume are playing some sort of game as they go about scavenging for hidden gems in the cracks of the sidewalk. There are benches with a few folks gossiping and scrolling through their phones, huddled over pricey coffee drinks. In the corner of the courtyard, beside a bed of pink flowers, an old homeless man is sitting alone, eating french fries and a burger. I’m captivated. There’s a quality in the man that is lacking in many of the people here. Though he wastes no time finishing his fries, he is contemplative and calm. Whether it’s a good meal, or the space he’s found for a moment, a happy energy is in him. I like to think he’s found this small Nature Space by choice, and not chance. The courtyard birds have found an interest in me, and fly up to my bench, two feet from my lap, and investigate my thoughts. “Do you think you, your friend, the homeless man, and I are here to learn from each other?” I want to ask the two black capped chickadees beside me. I walk inside a small coffee shop across from the courtyard, order two coffees, and pass the second cup off to the homeless man without words. A subtle and heartfelt thank you from the man, and a brief exchange of harmony between both souls. As I’m walking away, I see the two birds fly up to the man and investigate his thoughts. “Do you think you, your friend, the stranger, and I are here to learn from each other?” The man contemplates some more.
June 8, Friday afternoon: I found a break to go explore for a few hours. Tifft Nature Preserve is about fifteen minutes by car (four miles) from Buffalo’s Pearl Street. Despite its proximity to an urbanized landscape, Tifft is a 264 acre Nature refuge, and soul refuge on my particular visit. The land, once a dairy farm turned city refuse site in the 50’s and 60’s, was purchased by the city of Buffalo and, through good intention, science, and hard work, was designated a preserve in 76’. It embodies the Nature Space I am advocating our societies to demand more of. Surrounded by trees (lots of large cottonwoods) and rehabilitated cattail marsh, the area has become a haven for local wildlife. The forest echoes the daily conversations of the local bird residents. I think about the saying people have in these moments, “this is worth protecting.” Because it is here, in these Nature Spaces, that we have a chance to reflect, and our inner self smiles, knowing it is in a familiar place that has long been forgotten. They are healthy, humbling places. They teach us our place in the grand scheme of everything and anything that we have come to know as a species, and afterwards, we are the better for it. A true body cleanse.
Space set aside is here to show us the soul of the Universe. They are places of hope and they provide us with answers. They offer peace during times of calamity. Some call it God. I call it Nature.
I believe the closer a relationship we develop with Nature, the closer our relationship to others becomes. Further, by pouring ourselves into these spaces and learning of their ways, we begin to learn about ourselves, and our purpose.
As our race pushes ahead at the current rate, and under the same false ideals, it is slowly erasing these Nature Spaces. As these spaces vanish, so too do the ethics and wisdom of an entire species.
Our problems of today, specifically those in the environment, are a direct result of the disconnect between the human species and the rest of Nature. That disconnect among the population will continue to grow if these spaces of Nature continue to dwindle. To care about the environment and Nature, people must know the environment and Nature. Our feelings, our soul, are at their strongest when we are directly connected to something. This, I am arguing, should reside as an awakening alarm to every single individual alive today, and especially to those that have been given the power to make decisions on behalf of the human race. It is my hope that this post is regarded as a call for getting back and giving back to Nature. As our population increases, it is absolutely critical for our own success as a species on this planet to begin creating more of these Nature Spaces. Our cities, our habits, our enterprises, institutions, and our interests are out of balance with the rest of the Universe. They have fragmented the land which has subsequently fragmented our relation to it.
We must experience our Nature by placing ourselves in it before we can begin to care about it. With that said, it should make sense for all our societies around the world to advocate for, and create more Nature Spaces to accompany a growing population. Everything depends on it.
The Earth exhaled. She gave the answers to the World. We Listened, and then there was peace and harmony among all.
-W. R. Weiland
“Walked out this morning, don’t believe what I saw. A hundred billion bottles, washed up on the shore.” Making my routine, daily tour of Assateague this morning, The Police’s Message In A Bottle came to mind. Though the song was likely written out of feelings of loneliness, a song’s meaning often varies among different listeners. The lyrics in Message In A Bottle have prompted this piece. Running through the words in the song, it is as if there is a conversation between Human and Earth. When I listen to a song, I see pictures. In an almost transcendental way, I can put myself into the song as if creating my own dream. Placing my soul and own feelings into the story of the song, I am in a state of shock after acknowledging the environmental catastrophe that I discover unfolding. Give the song a listen, and you just may, briefly, see things from my perspective.
Fortunately I didn’t witness a catastrophic number of bottles washed up on the shore of Assateague Island this morning, but I did, however, begin to think about the ways in which our Mother Earth speaks in her attempt to tell us something. She is sending out an S.O.S. As if screaming a plea to have mercy, our Planet is desperately conveying a desperate situation. A changing climate and its unpredictable weather patterns are warning us that our dependence on fossil fuel burning has reached an unsustainable level. A slew of health problems are surfacing as a result of genetically modified foods and the excessive use of chemicals. Widespread disease and illness are indicators that the habits of the majority are adversely affecting a minority. The plastic poisoning of our environment is a direct result of the many “conveniences” of modern day society. Connect the dots, and you’ll realize that the problems of today are a manifestation of the out of balance lifestyle practices that our race as a whole embraces. Take for instance that 17 million barrels of oil a year are used for water bottle production alone. If that still doesn’t phase you, how about acknowledging that 93% of American’s are walking around with bisphenol A in their system. Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a chemical produced in large quantities that serves as one of the primary structural binding ingredients in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. Exhibiting estrogen-mimicking, hormone-like properties, BPA causes widespread damage throughout the entire body. Yet, our dependency on plastics seems to grow exponentially. That, folks, is out of balance.
Much of my writing discusses the disconnect that exists between people and the land. This disconnect has dulled our senses to the language of Nature and it prevents us from acknowledging the root of the problem. We have made our Planet sick. The symptoms are escalating, and if they continue, the problems we see today will seem meager compared to what is going to unfold.
If we continue to ignore her, I do believe that our race is in for a very uncomfortable future as Nature, the very source of our existence, contorts in ways we and much of the ecosystems of the world simply cannot bend to.
I do believe we can reverse the direction we’re heading. But doing so is going to require unity and participation among the World’s people on a scale that has never been seen. Massive efforts are already underway to educate us about the harm we’re causing to our Planet and ourselves. Organizations are forming everywhere we look. The Plastic Pollution Coalition is a large, promising organization that is working to ween our World off of plastics. But there needs to be more. We all need to be a part of the solution to get back and give back to our Land.
I’m sending an SOS to the World. For every 100 pounds of litter removed from our land, I am biking 10 miles to raise awareness to the predicament our human race is in. Let’s see where we end up…
“I hope that someone gets my message in a bottle.”
More on this words to action advocacy and the Ten4OneHundred will be available soon. Contact Billy Weiland at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
#TrashFreeAssateague #TheMarsh #Ten4OneHundred #assateaguenps #assateagueisland #assateague #assateaguestatepark
Trash Free Assateague. Go Green OC. Strawless Summer. Plastic Pollution Coalition. Organizations local, and around the globe are raising awareness to the excessive anthropogenic debris our human race has created. Of particular concern are the documented and scientific findings that have surfaced around plastics, and specifically one-time use plastics. We are only beginning to see the spell our plastic addiction has cast on the land, our waterways and oceans, and our own human race.
The plastic problem is real, and, personally, I believe it is a global crisis that is not being taken seriously simply because the majority of members contributing to the issue are either unaware or unwilling. The Climate Change crisis has had a front row seat for years, but plastic and climate change are, as the Plastic Pollution Coalition puts it, “parallel global emergencies.” Most of us, hopefully, are well aware of the influence fossil fuel burning has on our planets global climate. Just the production of plastic, derived from petroleum, directly contributes to Earth’s climate and influences its change.
So, how do you get an entire population that has become so dependent on a material to give up their reliance on it in exchange for an alternative? We all need to begin informing large audiences about the detrimental and irreversible damage plastic is having on our world. To do so, a compelling image needs to be created that both frightens and encourages a change.
This should demonstrate that change in behavior and social acceptance begins at the individual level. It is only at the individual level where any movement that is going to be successful must concentrate initial efforts. Businesses and corporations producing the pollutants that are deteriorating our only planet will continue to do so if the individual continues to ask for it. If we want to see change, a healthier environment, political ease, and international peace, it is the individual – you, me, us – that must be the change. As it is said, the time is now. The movement that will succeed is that which both fosters and practices a lifestyle change. If we are to prosper as a species, and live healthy, meaningful lives, it is essential that we adopt a more sustainable approach to living with our planet.
The obstacle is not political. It is not simply a class, race, poverty or wealth issue. Though these are arguably secondary. The root of the problems we are seeing and hearing today stem from the disconnect our society has created between man and Nature. It’s time to get back and give back to our Mother Earth. The future holds what we do today.
Each of us must strive to improve our relation to Earth by getting back and giving back to Nature. What we do has the power to encourage other individuals to follow our lead. Make the change now, and acknowledge your lifestyles footprint on the Earth. As more of us begin making that transition to more sustainable living practices, others will follow suit.
Sustainable living practices have seemingly grown in popularity over the past decade. This is partially due to the increased ease of access to informational resources. However, I believe more people are seeking these off the grid life styles and experimenting with sustainable living practices because we are beginning to acknowledge just how far modern day society has pulled us away from our roots. Communing with Nature is part of our human heritage. It bonds us to the land and gives us a sense of purpose and place in this life. It has the power to heal us both physically and mentally. Knowing Nature allows us to get to know our selves and, as the saying goes, the way of things. By putting our energies into learning more about the Land we live on and the Nature we’re surrounded by, we begin to see life on this planet in a new light. Living off the Land and learning to work with Nature doesn’t just happen. It takes time, patience, hard work, respect, and a dedication to learning.
The other evening I had an interesting conversation with a lady that has been experimenting with one of the many sustainable living practices. Maintaining free range chickens. I started to think about the challenges of sustainable living as she talked about wildlife poaching her free range chickens. She mentioned how the clearing of a wooded area near her farm resulted in an influx of predators preying on her flock. The logging of the tract of woods near her home forced the wildlife to seek out new habitat, and, in this case, easier food. Clear cuts are a common scene on the Eastern Shore. As more infrastructure is built to accommodate an ever increasing population, we will continue to see a loss of wooded areas. It stands to reason, then, that as we infringe on the habitat of wildlife, that wildlife will infringe on us. Tackling the problem of population and our sprawl across the Land might be something to delve into further with a book. However, The Marsh seems a fitting platform to provide some helpful tips for our followers that have ran into the problem of predators preying on their free range chickens. After a little research, I’ve compiled a list of methods that may help some members of your flock by protecting them from common predators in the area. Many of you likely are aware of some of these methods. Some of them, hopefully, are new ideas that you can apply and see if they work for you. As always, comments and suggestions are welcome. Enjoy your day, and remember to get outside and commune with Nature….there’s a lot to learn.
How To Deter Predators And Keep Your Free Range Chickens Safe
Silence and solitude. We all seek out these invaluable gifts that life offers us. Though, the more I find myself in the presence of silence and solitude, I realize that silence doesn't have to be the absence of sound, and solitude doesn't have to mean being alone. Silence and solitude, together, serve to bring us back to the ground. They carry us away from the negative distractions that have diluted our society, and take us to a place that shows us who we are and where we belong.
Silence and solitude is found in those moments when we discover ourselves listening to the voice of the Earth and recognize that we are a part of the magic of Nature.
This morning, a solitary seal and a few waterfowl helped to reiterate this idea of learning to listen to Nature speak. If we want to understand our place in this vast world, and develop a real sense of harmony with ourselves and each other, I believe we first must look to Nature and remind ourselves that we are not separate from it, but a part of its magic.
Spring begins March 20th! As the Sun gradually migrates back toward the northern hemisphere, the trees are showing signs of a season in transition, and the local birds are voicing their approval. I found this old bird feeder on the back porch of the ACT office. This feeder has a character of its own. With moss collecting on the roof, it resembles something that one would stumble upon in an old growth forest. All winter I’ve contemplated putting a little life back into it and this weekend seemed an appropriate time to get crafty. I refurbished this well weathered bird house to show gratitude toward our feathered friends. As we make it through these last few weeks of a winter that seems to want to hang on, we want to encourage everyone to take advantage of the increasing daylight hours and get outside. Start some hands on outdoor projects. Get those kayaks out of storage and go for a paddle. Go explore the many hidden paths this area has to offer. Reminding everyone to keep their minds busy and in tune with Nature. It’s as simple as a bird house.
Click the video above to view. Video created by Lindsey Buckman for the Anti Littering campaign developed by ACT's Billy Weiland.
I have listened to the Island in ways I never thought possible. Assateague is a humbling place, and it offers solace to those that listen and respect its ways. Since joining ACT, I have found myself in a position to stand in defense of Assateague, and have therefore initiated a campaign to clean the northern end of the Island. Residing on the south side of the Ocean City inlet, this northern most extent of Assateague is in dire need of a trash/anti littering campaign that will not only serve to clean this part of the National Park, but bring awareness to the littering and trash issue that exists throughout the Delmarva region.
The trash issue on this section of beach has been neglected for some time, and it needs to be addressed. To put into perspective the amount of litter that has accumulated on Assateague Island’s north point, lets rewind a decade or so. Through middle school and high school, this part of Assateague, referenced as The Wedge, was a place to escape the crowds that fill the more easily accessible areas of the Island. It was a place I would often paddle over to for surf sessions along the jetty when winds were unfavorable in town. It is the postcard image of Assateague Island. With a complex dune system, abundant wild life, and south swells that wedge off the jetty and offer one of the better left hand surf breaks in the area, this part of Assateague is a haven and refugee that deserves our attention. I moved back last February and made the paddle over to the wedge sometime in March last year. It was the first time I’d been back on the north point since I moved away. Sprinting across the dunes toward the ocean, I was shocked to see the amount of trash that has accumulated along the high tide lines and back dunes. The amount of litter collecting on this part of the beach is unacceptable by any standard.
Throughout my life I have come to find that there is no better way to develop a relation with Nature than by striving to understand its many ways, and working to ensure the health of the Planet. In doing so, I have developed respect for myself, my peers, and an even deeper respect for the Earth.
Acknowledging all that the Ocean has provided me, I believe it is my responsibility to help protect it from the many challenges it faces. The opportunity I have to make a difference and positively influence something as magical as Nature is a privilege I feel more than fortunate to have. At ACT, I have had the chance to build a platform, The Marsh, that hosts stories to inspire people to get back to Nature through adventure, literature, and the arts. I want everyone to develop the deep level of respect I’ve found for this Earth. In doing so, I firmly believe we all will find common ground and the Land we walk on will be the better for it.
This campaign to clean the north point of Assateague Island National Seashore, and bring awareness to the littering and excessive waste issues that the coastal environment of this area faces has become a focal point in my life.
Though my debut back in the water is several weeks away, I have remained on the water. This past February, my girlfriend and local Nature photographer Lindsey Buckman and I began making kayak trips across Sinepuxent Bay to the north point of Assateague. In just two trips, two people and two kayaks removed nearly 120 pounds of litter.
I have spent a good deal of time on this part of Assateague. Surfing has captured the bulk of my time on the north point, but the reflecting and thinking that I’ve done there has proven just as beneficial. During a solo trash sweep, I began developing a theory. I noticed that there was a visible age difference between litter on the part of the beach adjacent to the inlet, and the litter existing in the dunes. The portion of beach adjacent to the inlet is collecting newer trash as the wave and tide action pushes the litter in from Ocean City and West Ocean City. Most of the older trash exists in the dune system, a couple hundred yards south of this collection of newer trash. Within the dune system, there are several prominent washouts. They are areas where rain, wind, and high surf has eroded and washed out sections of dune and exposed relic trash. These areas are littered with miniscule plastics and artificial debris. The majority of litter in these washouts is visibly older than the trash washing up on the very north tip of the beach. I believe the trash that is appearing in these washouts has remained on the island for years, reappearing in areas where sand migrates and reveals the artificial debris beneath the dunes.
With excessive dune erosion occurring on the north point, a vertical profile view of the dunes is visible, revealing not just the depositional strata of the dune, but the litter that exists within it. I found a piece of foam embedded in one of these eroded dunes. Buried beneath two feet of sand, plant roots had begun growing through the foam. The vegetation growing above the foam at this particular location is approximately two years old. So, my theory here is that the piece of styrofoam in the picture can be dated by adding the two years or so it took for that vegetation to grow above it, plus the time it took for the two feet of sand deposition to bury the foam. What this tells me is that the north point of Assateague has quite a history of trash beneath its dune system, arriving by way of the tides and winds carrying it from Ocean City, and the negligence of some that visit this part of the island.
The first photo is a single milk carton I found in the back dunes. Note how it started off in two pieces. The second photo shows how that one piece of plastic, after years of being on the island, has deteriorated and its chemical components have worn down. It results in the plastic breaking into puzzle pieces like that shown in my hand. Those little pieces eventually get buried in the dune system where they remain for years.
As we continue to build this campaign, we look forward to working with the National Park Service, and community members who wish to volunteer with ACT, as we clean our beloved Island and bring awareness to the littering and trash issues affecting our waterways and coastal landscape.
I would like to thank Lindsey Buckman, photographer and owner of Assateague Farm, for creating the video in this post, and the time she has put in as we build this campaign together. She is an amazing human, and I look forward to many more adventures with her as we work to bring people back to Nature.
Last week I had the privilege of taking to the skies, and I must say, the rawness with which Assateague and the surrounding coastal landscape exemplifies this time of year is astounding. At 2,000 feet above, the desolate, wild image that the Island of Assateague and our Coastal Bays portray only deepened the respect I have for this area’s coastal ecosystem. The effect these cold winter months have on the islands, marshes, and wildlife of Maryland is nothing short of amazing. From above, the image is an embodiment of Mother Nature. With chunks of ice floating on the surface water at the mercy of the wind and tides, vegetation that has gone dormant as it awaits longer days ahead, and beaches absent of the crowds they are often associated with, one would be convinced they have found a piece of coastal wilderness lost in time. I am drawn to this area because of the beauty in the solitude it offers.
After a brief fly over of the Island, our flight itinerary took us further inland. The image from above shifted, and the peace of mind that a natural landscape offers was replaced by a sense of disappointment. The purpose of our flight was to capture aerial views and geographic coordinates of poultry factories in the area. Referred to as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), these mammoth poultry factories are spreading across Delmarva at an alarming rate. The issue isn’t new, and is in fact a main campaign at Assateague Coastal Trust as we vigilantly work to protect water quality, the health of our communities, and the health of the coastal ecosystem from agricultural pollution.
Peering out of that tiny plane window, I saw a landscape scarred by the hand of man. We’ve all seen these factories. Take a Sunday drive down the many back country roads, and you would be hard pressed to not notice the metal chambers sprawling across the majority of the open fields. Looking at the CAFOs from above, I am struck with emotion similar to that which I feel when passing by them on the ground. These huge industrial sized poultry CAFO’s are not just unpleasant, they are repulsive. They are creeping into our communities, and they are threatening the very land and waterways to which we owe our deepest respect. It is the land and rich coastal ecosystem of this area that has provided every resident that calls this place home the opportunity to flourish in such a remarkable environment.
With a birds eye view, I also note just how close these CAFO’s are to a place that has given people of this area and afar so much. On land, the proximity of these CAFOs to Maryland’s coastal bays isn’t as clear. Above the canopy of trees, however, it truly is terrifying to acknowledge the encroachment of the poultry industry on our coastal landscape. For those that doubt the problem at hand, I urge them to take a brief glance at any recent aerial photograph of the area. Navigate the region for five minutes on Google Earth. Poultry CAFO’s are taking over our rich land at the expense of our communities, wildlife, and water quality. What I saw on that flight was an industry driven by profit, slowly encroaching on a Land that is priceless.
I wonder how it might look if the massive poultry houses plaguing this area were actually small family farms. The poultry industry sells the public with an image reminiscent of the good American life, complete with a red farm house and rustic wood fence surrounding a country plot of roaming farm animals. The real image is that of massive metal buildings that have scarred this region physically and mentally. So, I would like to ask big chicken, what happened to so many of the small family farms I once knew in this area? Like the wise artist Graham Nash said, “my advise to you is to not take advice from the dealers who are handing out the cards.”
It is time to recapture the essence of this Land, and stand in defense of the Eastern Shore for the beauty it holds and the beauty it’s capable of procuring.
The Eastern Shore is my home. I left it nine years ago and returned last February. Though I have been back on my home turf in Assateague for a year now, it only took a few days upon my return to acknowledge the many problems big poultry is inflicting on our communities, the land, and the wildlife. Let's take a stand.
Please feel free to visit ACT's Community Healthy Air Act (CHAA) page to learn how ACT is working to help local communities in their efforts to ensure CAFO emissions are regulated.
Through rain, snow drifts, bitter cold and wind, I’ve spent months waiting for the opportunity that presented itself earlier today. Representing one of my favorite wild animals, the Red Fox, this little lady gave me the opportunity to witness her elusive ways. A rare moment that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. I spent nearly a half hour trekking behind her as she led me through standing water, ice, shin high marsh mud, briars, and the dune system on Assateague Island State Park. With nose to the ground and an unwavering focus, she remained adamant in her daily chores despite my presence. Carry on my friend, tis’ a nice day…
Reminding everyone to get outside, explore, and recognize the beauty this Land has to offer.
You can't look for it. The value of living in the present, opening your mind to the universe, and listening to the voice of Nature is validated at those moments when we feel that deep connection to the rawness of Earth. Finding that connection by listening to the land and its components is a practice many have neglected in their pursuit of control and the lure of false security. We go about our lives with expectations, and in those expectations, we have preconceived ideas. We have been taught, somewhere along the line, that we must control everything, and that money and power brings us greater control. It is this control that pools the wool over our eyes, and makes many oblivious to not just the beauty and complexity of Nature, but the answers which Nature is attempting to convey.
I habitually use the term Nature in my writing, and it begs the question, what is Nature? Nature is everywhere and it is represented by the biological organisms and the physical processes that depend on each to ensure life occurs in the most harmonious, efficient manner possible on this planet. Those that understand Nature this way will agree with the philosophy of a man-Nature disconnect that routinely surfaces in my posts. Our society is neglecting the need for a true relationship with Nature and the Land it inhabits. At risk is our ability to communicate with Nature and understand the Land.
Earth, Nature, and the Land is as real as it gets. I truly believe that Mother Earth and the laws of Nature that comprise her are aware of those that respect the Land and share their energy with it. The reward for those that develop this connection with the Land, listen to Nature, and understand the importance of place on Earth can not be acquired by power, politics, money or possessions. There must be an understanding between man and Nature, and a relationship must exist between the Land and its inhabitants if we wish to continue residing here.
Many walk through this life with preconceived ideas, looking for answers in places and enterprises that pull us further away from the Land. The mass of individuals comprising today’s society are failing to keep rhythm with Nature. Should we continue to move forward under the aforesaid circumstances, we will continue to forfeit the many gifts Nature has to offer.
My fascination with Native Americans and their relationship with the Land exemplifies the connection we must strive for today. Wisdom resides with the Native American, and there is much we can learn from their ways and their words. The late 19th century Teton Sioux medicine man, Brave Buffalo, once said “I have noticed in my life that all men have a liking for some special animal, tree, plant, or spot of earth. If men would pay more attention to these performances and seek what is best to do in order to make themselves worthy of that toward which they are so attracted, they might have dreams which would purify their lives. Let a man decide upon his favorite animal and make a study of it, learning its innocent ways. Let him learn to understand its sounds and motions. The animals want to communicate with man, but Wakantanka does not intend they shall do so directly – man must do the greater art in securing an understanding.”
Too many people today are using their souls to bargain with enterprises that return nothing of purity. We are putting our trust and soul into men that are taking that energy and contributing to the very enterprises that pull us further away from what it is that we not only need, but what we all long for.
If we stop to think about the problems facing the world today, we will see that those problems are a manifestation of man forgetting his place on this planet. Our “advances” have actually set us back, and removed us spiritually from the Land. The condition of the Land, the health of the Earth’s biomes, and the Spirit of man are in jeopardy if we continue to treat it as a resource, and neglect communing with Nature.
Inspiration for this post comes from an evening a couple weeks ago in which a snow storm, a pine tree, and a camp fire spoke words of wisdom, like that conveyed by Brave Buffalo. After a large offshore low migrated up the coast and moved north of the Mid Atlantic region, our landscape was left under a thick blanket of snow and a sharp northeast wind that ushered in a bitter cold. An excellent opportunity for the game of wildlife hide and seek awaited. Warding off cabin fever, Lindsey Buckman and I scurried up to Cape Henlopen Sate Park. Single digit temperatures and thigh deep snow drifts tend to keep the hiking trails in this area relatively quiet, from the human. Lindsey welcomed the opportunity as prime time to savor a moment with the infamous snowy owl, and I was convinced that the endless tracks in the snow would lead me to the always elusive, and forever mystical, solitary red fox. Nature spoke through the many warblers, finches, blue birds, and herons that went about their daily lives on that cold January afternoon. Nature guided us through the woods and the sand dunes with the foot prints of local fox and racoon. After a few hours of trekking through snow drifts and unable to spot an owl or a fox, it was apparent that we were looking too hard. With silence on our side, snow on the ground, and a plethora of tracks, I was certain the owl would appear before us and the fox I had been tracking would reward my efforts. You can't look for it. In a way, I was trying to control how Nature would speak to me, and by doing so, I wasn't fully open to the language of Nature. I was limiting myself to one language, but Nature speaks many languages and answers us in different ways. Knowing those languages and the manner in which they are conveyed is the skill we must preserve if we are going to understand this world and our place in it.
After returning home, my mind was open, I was relaxed, and in rhythm. I had spent a day hiking through snow with my best friend observing the local wildlife at one of our nearby State Parks. Clarity and sense of the world happened because I was open to the Land around me, and thankful for the simplicity our Earth offers. I was content and at ease with the warmth of the fire that Lindsey had made on the snow in front of my rancher. I had warmth around me, snow beneath my feet, and the shadow of the trees above my head. And in that moment, in the small notch of a pine tree that rests in front of my house, a woodpecker was seeking a last minute refugee from the wind and cold. As we stood in front of this amazing bird, literally inches away, admiring it as it huddled into this perfectly spaced hollow of a pine tree, a fox dashed pass the fire and into the small tract of woods in front of my house.
...all in a day.
Leave control out of your life. Open your mind to the Land. Renew your relationship with the Earth. Listen to Nature. Sometimes the answers we're looking for are nestled in the notch of a pine tree.
And just like that, an entire county can shut down. It's weather like this that first sparked my interest in science and the natural world. The power of Nature continues to, and will always keep things in check. The snow. The cold. The wind. A few elements on this planet that are oh so humbling. Nature speaks to us every day, and today she is speaking loud enough for everyone to hear. Enjoy the snow, stay safe, and read a book.