Voices in the Wilderness: My Winding Path to Environmental Activism (Part 8/10)

Voices in the Wilderness: My Winding Path to Environmental Activism (Part 8/10) May 20, 2016

Pres. Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir (right) in Yosemite in 1903

It was around this time that I realized that something was wrong with the website which I had been curating. It presented a very Self-centric view Neo-Paganism, and the absence of an earth-centered perspective was suddenly glaring to me. I started researching, looking for material to round out the site, and I discovered the writings of John Muir and Rachel Carson, the “father of the national parks” and the “mother of the environmental movement.” They inspired me to learn more about deep ecology and to become an activist myself.

I was deeply moved by the story of how John Muir cut short a career in industry, following an accident that left him temporarily blinded, after which he walked 1000 miles from Indiana to Florida, and then sailed to San Francisco in 1869. From there, he walked to the Sierra Nevada mountains, where what he saw (what he called the “Range of Light”) transformed him and led to him becoming the “father of the national parks.” I recognized in Muir’s evocative prose my own experiences in the woods, and I heard in his writing the voice of a modern-day prophet.

Rachel Carson

I was similarly moved by the story of Rachel Carson’s discovery that the disastrous decline in bird populations was due to insecticides like DDT, and her campaign to end their use. I was especially inspired by the image of Carson standing up against chemical industry which threatened her with legal action, attacked her scientific credentials, accused her of being “hysterical”, and even attacked for being an unmarried woman. Like Muir, Carson’s activism was informed by her insight into our interconnectedness with our environment. Their stories awoke in me a growing sense of urgency about the decimation of the environment and compelling need to do something about it.

Rachel Carson testifying before congress in 1963

That fall, I participated in my first environmental demonstration, as a local part of the People’s Climate March, and then in a large anti-tar sands march in St. Paul. I began looking for other ways to take action, from other public demonstrations to changing my own lifestyle. Around the same time, the Covenant of the Goddess published their public statement on the environment, which prompted me to organize a group of Pagans to create what became “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.”

To be continued …

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