Leaving a Light Footprint in a Far Away Place

I remember visiting Yellowstone as a teenager and being upset that I was not allowed to take even one tiny little insignificant rock home as a souvenir.  Up to that time, I always brought a rock home from places I enjoyed. What difference could my little memento make?

Then I looked around. Thousands of people were here with me, and if I was the only one who ever took a pretty stone, there would be no problem. But what if half of them wanted rocks, too?

It was something of an epiphany to realize that while a never-before-seen insect or two on ones front porch is interesting, ten thousand such insects on the porch is frightening. Maybe even a plague. It was more of an epiphany to understand that it works pretty much the same for humans as for bugs. Take one or two of us out of our home environment and put us somewhere else, and we’re interesting. But if thousands of us suddenly plop up somewhere new, we become a problem. Maybe even a plague.

Today, I am an adult who loves to travel, and my books and my blogs reflect my belief that peace and compassion are byproducts of visiting places far from our own. However, in a world where many now have the means and desire to explore far away places (which is good), we risk harming every place to which we swarm (which is bad).

Back when I wrote z2, main characters Alex and Lola had to visit Guatemala and Belize as part of the plot. As I researched their vacation, I came upon the concept of ecotourism and immediately wanted my characters to embrace this idea. This was the result.

As the van from their lodge left the lowlands the next morning and entered the mountainous area of western Belize, Alex thought that the vacation portion of this trip had pretty much ended. So he was surprised by the breathtaking beauty.

The lodge itself was nestled in between two small waterfalls and surrounded by tropical forest. Even just standing in the parking lot Alex could see wild orchids growing and brightly colored parrots flitting about. It was a fantasy set in a version of paradise.

“Why don’t you tell the world that this place is so gorgeous?” Lola was exclaiming.

“Many tourists are a mixed blessing,” the driver smiled back at her. Of course, Alex thought. We bring money, something the region sorely needs. But we also bring us.

The lodge that Lola had selected advertised its allegiance to sustainable ecotourism. In the past Alex had honestly paid very little attention to that concept. But now, looking at the array of spectacular plant life in front of him, and remembering the clear struggle for life he had seen while diving around reefs only a few days ago, he was proud and happy that Lola had persuaded him to spend the extra to be staying at a facility that at least gave some conscious thought to the problem.

A few days ago I got introduced to a documentary being made by relatives of a friend of mine. He is from Easter Island, and they are working to finish a film about the challenges caused by having a massive number of humans decide to put a visit to Easter Island on their bucket list.

It looks like it will be a thought-provoking look into how our common yen to visit far away places has consequences, and how we would be well-served to keep them in mind. Enjoy the video below and check out their Kickstarter page to learn more.

(For more thoughts on Far Away Places see As Far Away Places Edge Closer, Caring About Far Away Places, The Courage to Embrace Those Far Away Places, and Those Far Away Places Could Be Next Door.)

Nature calls it even

wavesI’ve been thinking recently about the concept of a tie, or draw in a contest. (See my post about ties on my x0 blog here.) I’m on vacation, relaxing. I am also realizing that I let myself relax all too seldom. There’s work, a necessary evil. Family. Relationships. Joyful but not effortless. Writing. Blogging. Both my passions but not effortless either. And then there’s that damn kitchen counter that always needs a wipe down.

This week I am at the beach, on a screen porch that overlooks the ocean, and captures the sea breeze and the sounds of waves. I think maybe I should get off the porch and do something and then I think, why? This is my vacation.  So I sit here and ponder the tides. It is low tide now, so the sea has receded and paused. It rests in equilibrium, a perfect tie between the pull of water as it follows the tug of the moon and the sloshing back of the water as the moon looses its grip.

moonThere is a full moon tonight, another wonderful resting point of nature that will be shown in all its spectacular glory, sparkling off the waves. For two weeks the moon has waxed, growing ever larger. Tonight it will pause, caught between expansion and contraction. Tomorrow the forces of waning will begin to win, for two weeks or so at any rate.  Then a dark moonless night filled with the wonder of a million stars will accentuate another temporary draw in this battle of the waxing and the waning moon.

Although I call work a necessary evil, the truth is that my profession in geophysics is born of a deep fascination with the earth and sky and physical forces that shape the universe around us. It shows up in my novels, where I have gotten to describe earthquakes, tsunami, and storms at sea.  In z2 I made the path of the sun overhead part of my plot. That is a place where nature reaches a different kind equilibrium. Here the night grows longer and darker, until the point of greatest darkness, when like the tides or the moon, things pause.  But this pause, called the solstice, is not the “tie” but merely the turning point. Days will grow longer now until for one single moment the powers of light and darkness are equal. We call it the spring equinox, and it is the moment when nature grants a tied score. Then the day grows still longer, and that brings us to now.  Late May, with the summer solstice approaching. Me sitting on a porch pondering nature and equilibrium and thinking that at the very least I ought to go inside the wipe down the kitchen counter, left in quite a mess after the lunch that faded into the nap that faded into these seaside thoughts.

I get as far as opening the door into the house when I see that my son has not only wiped down the counter, he’s loaded and run the dishwasher as well. My my. All things have cycles don’t they, and it appears that we have reached some sort of equilibrium point regarding kitchen clean-up. I love it when nature allows for balance. I smile my appreciation, and head back to the hammock for a second nap.

hammock2

For a few later thoughts on the merits of a close game please visit my y1 blog here.