Other Environmental Themes

The Great Outdoors

The majesty of a snow-capped peak, the allure of a roaring waterfall, the dramatic splendor of a canyon or the quiet grace of a meandering brook has held humanity in awe throughout the ages. A respect for nature, and the plants and animals that inhabit it, has been embraced by most, if not all, of the world's cultures and has perhaps been with us since the dawn of conscious thought.

It may seem almost demeaning to regard the aesthetic and spiritual value of wilderness areas as a "service," but that is certainly one of the greatest treasures that nature has bestowed upon us. A reverence for the natural world lies at the heart of many religious beliefs, providing a source of inspiration for artists, writers and philosophers, while serving as the principal motivation behind the conservation and environmental movements. We won't fight to safeguard our forests and wetlands-and keep them from being converted into strip malls and parking lots-without an appreciation of nature's beauty and a recognition of the priceless services that ecosystems provide.

Recreation is, of course, a prime benefit. There are limitless opportunities to enjoy the "great outdoors"—by scaling mountain peaks; skiing through deep, unbroken powder snow; boating in a fast-moving, whitewater stream; and through quieter endeavors such as gazing at the ocean shore, picnicking in a meadow or taking a leisurely walk in the woods. At any given moment, people are doing all these things and engaging in other pursuits too numerous to list. No one can partake of all the possibilities, though some surely take greater advantage of these resources than others. But even for those who spend most of their time in apartment buildings, shopping centers and office "parks," it is important to know that nature is out there—in hidden recesses of the city or in the vast expanses of our woodlands. We need to feel, on some deep, fundamental level, that there is more to life than concrete and asphalt—that somewhere, beyond the confines of the "civilized" world, lies the realm of wild places, where the incredible happens as a matter of course, without the intervention of humans.