I have seen where stars come from. They rise, tiny specks of light born from an equally illuminated world. Festering underneath furled logs, laying in wait until their home is disturbed, probed by the caress of a fellow branch, these specks burst outward in a fury of light and heat. I am one with the logs that are enveloped in flame, surrounded and comforted by the warmth of the fire. My gaze drifts upward, following the path of these flickering specks on their short journey upwards. Above my head I watched, entranced by the dips and dives and swirls embarked upon by the embers. They began to meld with the stars in the clear night sky, blurring the line between the nearby fire and the ones that burn countless miles away.
A few weeks prior, on a night much colder, we huddled inside of a small community room reminiscent of the peak of 1980’s interior design. Amongst this wilderness of tired flower print couch cushions and dusty reclining chairs, our instructor Mason posed a question to the six of us, “Why do you care about nature?” At first this question seemed simple, although after listening to my classmate’s deeply touching and well-described answers, I found myself lost. Unlike many others in the group, I can’t point to any specific place or instrumental moment that has sparked my compassion for the natural world. However, I can feel the answer burning slowly inside my mind, a deep passion that guides me through my school, work, and everyday life, but to put this feeling into words was an act that seemed just out of reach.
In a way it reminds me of how the stars looked on that night around the fire. Dancing in pools of their own light they seemed just out of reach, as if I could climb one of the towering ponderosas and just begin to feel their heat. No matter how close these ideas felt, they didn’t separate themselves from the darkness of the night sky until I embarked upon more trips into the backcountry with our little group. Silently paddling through grasslands and standing atop a snow crusted mountain helped me peel back the layers of darkness that obscured my connection to these places. After traveling in these natural spaces, I was filled with a hundred snippets of a hundred powerful moments. I think my answer is slightly clearer. I have spent my whole life collecting snippets of the natural world. Dwelling on moments like the crackle and spit of a fire amongst looming ponderosa, and the whisper of cool Montana air through cottonwood leaves. I care about nature because of thousands of small, powerful moments. To lose any of these singular moments would be a devastating loss, as they each exist in tight cooperation with each other, my place among them.
These moments collect in my mind like the ash collecting underneath the logs of the campfire, piling up slowly and becoming fuel to the fire above. Thinking back, I have spent my life desiring a place. I have traveled across the country, seen parts of Canada and even Europe, yet I wouldn’t call any of these areas my place. Hearing my classmates and instructors speak passionately about natural spaces that bring about intense feeling of connection and importance made me feel as if I was lacking. Instead, I realized that meaning beyond the boundaries of a singular place doesn’t have to be lonely and uninspiring, for me it is the chance to care about nature for all the little reasons that sometimes slip between the cracks. I see meaning and feel motivated by the rhythmic beat of a goose’s wing. I watch, in a similar trance that drew my eyes to the embers dancing in the fire, as the evening sun lit this same fire on the wing of this goose. Bathed in lush yellow light, he flew just as the embers had, melding into the setting sun.