Fresh Ideas: It’s time to bear our feelings for climate

On a recent evening hike, meandering chest-high sage along the Fay-Luther Trail in Carson Valley, I was ruminating over how our culture’s values must profoundly shift if we are to avoid a catastrophic climate change. With more questions than answers over what I might need to embrace or relinquish, I strode toward Lonesome Trail, a stand of Jeffrey pines and a familiar draw where I was overcome by an odd urge to meet a bear.

Two years ago, I startled a bear only 25 feet away who then lumbered off. And last fall, a mama bear and two cubs wandered up the same draw. Today, I scanned for a shadow moving across the orange-needled ground. If I could get just one glimpse into her small bronze-beacon eyes, at her hulk of laissez-faire and stamina, of her feral amble, then. ... then I might understand ... what? This “values shift?” But nothing moved among the trees.

Compelled, I continued on, recalling what I’d read recently in “Nature and the Human Soul” by Bill Plotkin, PhD, depth psychologist and wilderness guide. He states, “The soul — through your dreams and fascination with the wild world — is constantly nudging you to cross borders ... Bonding across the species boundaries helps us overcome the conflicts and disparities between nature and culture and within human culture.”

Over my shoulder late-day sun blushed the eastern Pine Nuts and the view widened into a patchwork green of pastures, old ranches and new mansions. Farther away, subdivisions with their labyrinth of homes and side streets abutted the highway. Yes, I love beautiful Carson Valley! The scent of desert peach floated by in a pocket of warm air and I considered my good fortune: I too own a home with views and a garage with toys. I’m a 10-minute drive to the swim center and library, 20 minutes to Lake Tahoe, 40 minutes to Kirkwood. I smiled. Mid-life and I’ve made it.

Really? I’ve made it because I own a home plumbed with sockets to power any desire? Is this my value or my culture’s value? Again, I recalled Plotkin’s description of how, by adulthood, many of us have achieved a job, a mate, children and a mortgage and yet no deep sense of what to do with our one wild and precious life. I left the draw behind and turned right onto the Grand View loop trail. At the crest, a fork led deep into the Sierra. Perhaps I’d see a bear there.

Over the years I’ve written about bear encounters and had shared them with Marilee, my now retired creative writing teacher. Ten years ago, I enrolled in one of her classes. For years, I was the student, and she, the teacher. Earlier today we’d exchanged emails over our favorite books and essayists only to end our email thread with words of mutual admiration and respect. Though we only see each other a few times a year, I’d been teary-eyed with gratitude.

I was at the juncture and I looked up — a young hawk cried out then drafted the canopy of pines — and across the valley — fence lines between pastures and ranches had faded. I turned to head back. I’d gotten my answer: family, friends and neighbors, connections with the natural world, and perhaps, one day, on her own terms, with a bear. Relationships are what I treasure. I’ll happily sacrifice my lifestyle for that which is heartfelt.

As Plotkin says, “We cannot simply think our way out of our current planetary impasse.” He’s right. We have to feel our way there.

Kathy Walters is the mother of a teenage boy, works for Kirkwood Mountain Realty and lives in Gardnerville. Currently, she is working on her memoir “Enough”.


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