After Yellowstone, In Search of Nature

Every student at College of the Atlantic earns a degree in human ecology. The following piece is my final human ecology essay, a place where each College of the Atlantic senior reflects on what they learned during their schooling and presents a snapshot of their view of “human ecology.”

As long as I can remember I have loved nature. My mother recalls three-year-old Austin rescuing earthworms from puddles after rainstorms and running around the house turning off lights to “save the penguins.” Before I entered elementary school, television shows featuring lion prides and herds of giraffe made me dream of becoming a world-traveling wildlife photographer. As a teenager, I led my parents on a grand summer vacation visiting national parks in Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, California, and Oregon. I’ll always remember how I felt exploring Yellowstone National Park for the first time—like every footstep deserved to be placed with a gentleness and respect for hallowed ground.

While visiting Yellowstone, I was entranced with the natural and human history of the region. Firsthand experience watching bison swim with their heads barely bobbing above rushing rivers, seeing coyote puppies play with their mother in a sheltered glade, and observing wolves’ tracking a scent and howling through the twilight inspired a sense of natural wonder. The park, steeped in the legacy of American conservation, served as an ideal place to spark my imagination.

At Yellowstone, I felt the environmental vigor of my childhood again. I felt sensations that spurred the first champions of the conservation movement. This is a movement that has made great strides since the creation of Yellowstone, but given the current climate—one where humankind’s impact on Earth’s environment is more pronounced than at any previous time—there has never been a more opportune time to take bearings and consider if conservation requires a new direction forward. I wonder if Americans struggle to separate modern conservation from the preservation values of the 19th and early 20th century, a period when many beloved parks were protected. In an era of climate change, we need a new wave of environmental thinking because our environmental dilemmas require national leadership and international cooperation—not national isolation and international division. To reach a new plateau in conservation, we need a national effort to assess how our current relationship with nature falls short and what new routes we need to take.

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