This piece was written by one of our founding members, current board member, and conservation hero Brock Evans nearly 15 years ago. The piece is as relevant today as it was then. Take heart, fellow Keepers of the Door!
Keepers of the Door
I find much to be happy about, living in these times. Our unparalleled instant access to information about everything and every idea, the ease of travel to beautiful places. The closeness of friendships and loved ones, the spirited interchanges with good minds. Here in Washington, the feeling of making a difference, standing up for the things we believe in.
But there’s a deep ache, a sadness inside, at the same time. These are NOT happy times to be alive in if one loves the natural world in all its variety and beauty – are they? The call of a wood thrush deep in an ancient forest, the roar of the surf on a wild beach, the flash of a fish in the shallows of a pristine brook, even the simple pleasure of passing still-open fields in a sprawling strip-mall landscape… all these precious things and sensations, the places they come from, and the web of life-forms they have supported for millennia, are melting away in front of our eyes. The knowledge of these daily losses sears my heart.
Daily headlines ram home the pain of it all in a mournful threnody: the extinctions, the deforestations, the decimations of whole ecosystems, record demand for SUVs. Strip malls gobble up and transform landscapes with a seemingly unstoppable, ever-metastasizing force.
The political scene is no better. “Energy Plan to open up pristine Western lands… new policy to speed up public forest logging…. Administration cancels ESA listings…” Many of our national leadership would like to make the Endangered Species Act itself an endangered species.
So the inner anxiety runs deep inside me, an aching counterpoint to the daily joys. Often I have wondered: “Is it all worth it? Can we really succeed? Won’t it all, in the end, be overwhelmed by the forces of rampant over-consumerism, destructive technologies, greed and political malaise all around us?”
My answer us always NO. NO, it is not hopeless, not at all. And YES, keep going. We can succeed; we are doing better than we may realize.
I know this is so, because I have seen it. I have fought in most of the land-use/species protection struggles of the past four decades, and I have witnessed many wonderful victories protecting wonderful places. Places, habitats that would have surely been lost otherwise. I know we can rescue much, because I have seen it happen, and I have lived it.
Our record is outstanding: over 220 million acres now protected by law, almost always saved against big odds from opponents just as powerful as they are now. An ESA, still standing tall despite 30 years of determined attacks mounted against it –because we fought to keep it. To those who sometimes feel despair I say: “Imagine what this beautiful land would have looked like by now had there been no laws, and no defenders – no us.”
Sure, it’s tough. Many with political power do not feel the way we do. They oppose laws and policies to protect nature. I wish this was not so. But since it IS so, we just have to go forward anyhow. This battered but still-beautiful earth can’t wait.
A metaphor sustains me, guides me every day. It gives comfort, because it so clearly explains what we must do.
I call it the Metaphor of the Door; and I call us who defend this earth, the Keepers of the Door.
I see this Door in my mind. On one side of it is Now: the Present, with all its strife and its cacophonies, its noise and its bulldozers, its music and lovings too. That’s where we are—in Now, the Present.
On the other side of my Door is the Future.
We don’t know what that Future holds for us or for the things we love. We only know that it might be a better, more benign, world than this turbulent Now.
So, the answer to What Must Be Done is simple. Our job, as Keepers of the Door, is to shove every acre and every species through that Door. Pass them on into that Future time, where they will have another chance to survive. Rescue them from the Now.
I am optimistic that the Future will be better than our Now. I say this because I have seen so many positive changes in our attitudes and perceptions about the value of the natural world since 1960. Changes that have been translated into strong political support: for the ESA itself, and for every one of those 220 million acres. These successes – won in circumstances just as difficult as our own—tell me there is no reason to believe that we cannot also do the same.
Just hang on, fellow Keepers of the Door. It is still a beautiful little planet, and it needs us.