When that amber-thick evening light at last slips from the juniper boughs and the tri-tipped sage and the weather-worn granite bluffs, when the clouds give up their flamboyant colors and fantastical shapes and fade subtly back to matte; when that final bubbling meadowlark’s song evanesces into the deepening dusk and chill blackness of a desert’s autumn night, I am again reminded how, in spite of the inherent wonder and self-evident splendor of this place, all is seemingly naught without others to imbibe in it. (Or in my more specific case, one’s significant other—my green-eyed muse.) Whither goes the luster when viewed solely through one person’s eyes, never to be shared or re-interpreted by his kind?
Which brings me to a more pointed question: Why does another’s presence—or merely the thought of shared experience, later related—serve to rarefy our outdoor pursuits? Shouldn’t nature speak for itself, equally (or at least manifestly) to all?
Communion with nature is no solitary act, I’ve discovered; always there is the retelling, the exultant and irrepressible putting-into-words afterward that cannot be kept to one’s self. It is only natural, we could say: a component of our gregarious nature. Indeed, it is the naturalist’s raison d’être. Yet the practice is not without its paradoxes. The reason we find nature beautiful and worthy of describing and rhapsodizing and ultimately protecting is because we know, deep down, that people should care. There will always be a receptive audience, a body of aesthetic, appreciative peers with similar values, concerns, heroes and dreams. But preaching to the choir is like sounding off in an echo chamber: the same tunes are replayed continuously, and people are apt to stop paying attention. When people stop paying attention to the natural world, and to environmental issues at large, the end is nigh.
So it is incumbent upon the naturalist to engage, to delight and appeal, to edify. To broaden the experience, and spread the good word. That’s my stake in the matter.