“Love all creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand within it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things.”
-Elder Zosima, from The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
At one time in my life, I experienced pure, childlike love for nature. That’s probably because I was a child. As time went on, I became an “outdoor professional” and my desire to explore was tainted by a desire to impress my coworkers and clients. I began to crave the adrenaline rush of whitewater and snowboarding as something separate from river and snow.
This reality hit me one day when I was teaching a four year old to ski. He wanted to investigate the copse of firs next to the “magic carpet” surface lift rather than make one more wedge turn. I obliged him. He did make progress with his skiing that day (and a good thing too or his skiing parents wouldn’t have been happy) but he also learned to love trees and snow, the more important lesson. And I was reminded of a time when I wanted to ski out of an undefined desire for the mountains, not a desire for speed or thrills or approval from others.
In human relationships, we take it for granted that we ought to love one another without expectation of reward. We consider people who use their friends and family for personal gain to be mercenary. However, we keep our relationship to the natural world impersonal. How many of us truly love all creation? We may appreciate a sunset or get high on the rush of rapids or take pride in spotting a rare bird. But love? Do we love the sun and the river and the pygmy nuthatch? How easy it is to fall into the trap of believing that we can use the natural world for ego-building or monetary gain, free from the responsibility and messiness of relationship.
Surely none of us would want to poach endangered species or trample a field of wildflowers out of spite. However, a vision of outdoor adventure that portrays humans as conquerers and thrill-seekers with the right to use the natural world for our own ends is just as damaging to the spiritual relationship between the human and the non-human as clear-cut logging or pollution.
Better to spend all of one’s life loving one acre of land with it’s plants and animals than to see all the world’s wonders with a selfish heart.