On this perfect Independence Day—70°, beautiful blue sky, mild breeze drifting down the Salish Sea, the Olympics glowing on the horizon—there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than wandering by myself in a quiet forest glen, taking pictures of warblers and Cooper’s Hawks. Perhaps coming back later to do some writing: a blog entry or the draft of a new article. Yet here I am in my study, setting up group Facebook pages, reading about tragedies in unregulated industries, planning protests and organizing people to go to meetings.
It all started exactly a week ago, when my friend Melanie emailed me that my beloved city—that same city that’s known nationwide for its environmental bent—has been working for a year in secret on a proposal to establish a for-profit commercial “zipline adventure” in one of the most densely wooded parts of our park. They were collaborating with a UK company peculiarly called “Go Ape,” hoping to allow Go Ape to destroy 9 acres of habitat and serenity (and in the process, earn potentially over $2 million a year) in exchange for approximately 50¢ city revenue per neighborhood resident.
What? How could I have missed this?
That same day, Melanie alerted our wonderful neighborhood news source, the West Seattle Blog. The WSB’s editor scoured the Internet to see how, with her consistently diligent scouting for West Seattle-related news items, she could have overlooked this…and found nothing about the discussions, anywhere. Turns out that there’s not only been no public notice, but not even any mention of this idea available online at all for the past year.
I don’t like getting angry, I don’t get a thrill out of conflict, I dislike the us-versus-them mentality that so often goes along with political activism, I resent the pressure to take a side and call it the Way of Truth and Justice, with those who disagree becoming Those Awful People Who Represent Everything That’s Wrong With Society.
I don’t wanna fight City Hall.
Yet here I am.
We birders and naturalists, we who love quiet walks in nature or sitting peacefully beside a stream, tend to be introverts. We often don’t like muss and fuss and would frequently rather just stay out of the fray, letting the extroverts lead meetings and talk with the press and get videotaped for the 11:00 news. I’m very happy to research and write quietly about the importance of our connection with nature, peaceful in my sweet little study beside the balcony burgeoning with birdfeeders, but it’s hard for me to work up the extroverted energy necessary to organize and contribute to group activities. So it can take a lot to get people like me “riled up,” as one newspaper article put it.
However, it looks like the prospect of having 3,000 people a week swinging and screaming and swearing their way through my forest’s canopy is enough. I’d rather have them in my own back yard than terrifying baby hawks, alarming eagles, scattering warblers. And I’d rather my city had asked me earlier.
How do I argue effectively for protecting wildlife and urban contemplative natural space while not vilifying those with other perspectives? What compass can I use to wind my way through the complex alleyways of activism while maintaining lightheartedness and joy? How can I help my forest while staying grounded in peace?
St. Ignatius, by whose thought I’ve been deeply influenced, emphasized contemplatio in actione: contemplation in action. That is, he believed that a deep reflectivity (prayer) could take the form of acting in the world; action thus grounded could then in turn become a path to God . For me, action has always seemed to detract from a contemplative way of life—but maybe now’s a good time to learn otherwise.
Continuing adventures of a reluctant environmental activist, here we come.