The Rio Grande, toxic soup and Dinty Moore

Over the weekend I read an essay about canoeing down the Rio Grande river. The author was on a group venture, a week or so over white rapids, across calm coves, through high humming canyons so towering and parental that everyone in the group of boats got quiet for an entire day.

Meanwhile, someone had brought along a Sierra Club magazine. In the magazine was an article about a similar canoe trip down the very same stretch of river. Shocked, our canoeists found that the environmentalist who wrote the piece had a disturbing trip down the Rio Grande. The article was a series of observations about how the great river had become nothing more than toxic sludge, dangerous and crusty; the tone was rough, depressing and slightly toxic.

Toxic soup?  Dinty Moore is the name of the writer on the canoe trip. And Armageddon is not what he finds on the legendary waterway. Much to his relief, he sails into a rapid paradise.

Rio Grande not a toxic soup says Dinty Moore
Across the Rio Grande we go...
Instead of a toxic soup, our paddlers discover gleaming clear waters, abundant fish, humbling canyons and new life — including a technicolor insect no one has ever seen before.

The river feels exciting and fresh and inspiring and new. You'd want to jump and play and dig holes and climb on things. But...

Restrictions  It turns out there are myriad restrictions on behavior in the Rio Grande basin.

When we hear that, many of us think, "Well good, there should be restrictions, to protect the environment."

But people floating down the river can scarcely stop to rest or walk across sand. Quick on their footsteps is the reproach: "consider the environmental footprint and make atonement instantly and forever."

There's a sense of being chastised for basic outdoor activity, such as walking or cooking or collecting small rocks.

No one enjoys feeling guilty for wanting to explore and climb and move freely in the natural world. So what's going on?

Bigger issue  There is a bigger, more insidious issue lurking, one that provokes people to swell up against the environmental movement and try to capsize its self-righteous canoe.

A lot of environmentalists seem to forget that humans are stewards, yes, but humanity is also a part of it. Too many restrictions make the average citizen feel separate. Divided from wilderness.Restrictions and crisis-oriented eco-articles written by the overwrought have a terrible side effect. They encourage an audience to objectify "the environment" — as if "the environment" is a thing separate from of us, a thing to evaluate and test and consider and judge.

Ultimately, ordinary people who once moved comfortably and with consideration through forests and waterways now don't know if they can freely visit the wilderness. Or how to, or if they should or shouldn't....

And when people do take to the woods and waterways, they feel uncomfortable, out of place, and like they're "doing it wrong."

Are people better off for their pseudo wilderness experience? They're not happier for it. Nor have they any deep affection for the organizations and environmentalists who confused and regulated them right out of their natural habitat. They've lost the connection.

My part  Yes, I believe in the beauty and importance of the environment, and I believe in protecting it, says Dinty Moore in closing. "But I’d also like to be a part of it. Call it selfish if you will, but I’d be quicker to support the preservation of an ecosystem that includes me as a regular member."

For more  See "Texas On My Mind, Mexico On My Right," Sierra Magazine, 1998, requires log in. (Sierra, it must be stated, does some wonderful work and this blog by no means intends to disparage the entire organization with these comments about one article printed 15 years ago; undermining Sierra Club is not the aim of this essay.)

The Dinty Moore essay, for those inclined to read it, can be found here - scroll down to page 116, or you can buy his book on Amazon. The Rio Grande essay in its entirety is nestled in this wonderful book, which is for writers, bloggists or anyone interested in how to improve their nonfiction writing. See Dinty Moore's book here on Amazon.
Kathleen Hurley