Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I remember my mom reminding me that when I left a friend’s house, or a high school job or my bedroom in the morning before school, that I better leave that place better than I found it.
When I was younger, I thought this might just be an unrealistic demand of an overbearing parent. I now recognize it as a wise recommendation for how to lead your life. Leave something better than you found it. It is a recommendation that has come to define my life and I am sure it will come to define the lives of my children. Be it big things or small, we strive to leave a place, a person, or a moment better than when we first encountered it.
I believe a focus on this goal has come to define who we are at Wilderness Adventures. Are the students in our program better people after their time with us? Do we seek to teach our students how to interact with each other with intentionality and purpose having a positive effect on others? Is our program promoting an ethic where we seek to leave something better than we found it, paying it forward, and bettering the world?
I believe we are and we do.
Still, on this Earth Day, I do worry about the ultimate question that is at the root of this whole ethic. Did you leave the world a better place? It is my hope that, I, as a person and we, as an organization, are taking steps to do so. I worry, however, about the Earth that we will one day pass along to our grandchildren. Will it truly be in better shape than when we first met? Daily, we hear reports of our continued impact on the natural world and the effect it will have on the the earth’s long term future.
I know that I am just one person, and our earth is a very big place. But still, if we learn anything at Wilderness Adventures it is that just one small person can have a very big impact. I know that with my immediate family (we total 6), our impact (both positive and negative) grows. But when I think about the positive effect that we, as a Wilderness Adventures community, of over 25,000 strong, can have on our earth, my hopes rise that maybe we can turn the tide in the future and leave this earth better than we found it.
I am hopeful. I am hopeful because I have seen the moonlight glisten on towering canyon walls. I have witnessed whales cresting the ocean to catch a glimpse of another world. I have witnessed the roar of whitewater rushing towards me as I rode its waves, respecting its force and enjoying its thrill. I have laid in tall waving grass and felt the sweet kiss of sun on my face. I have felt the electrifying chill of a mountain lake after a long hike. I have reached out to touch brilliant tropical fish in deep parts of the ocean near stunning coral that looked to have been crafted by an artist. I have set camp in places where my only neighbor for miles appeared to be curious antelope grazing in a nearby mountain meadow. I have been awakened by the unmistakable call of coyotes in the night and that of bugling elk. I have climbed the mountain in search of perspective and crossed the valley to explore. I have hiked in darkness witnessing the shadow of moose along my path, and have been entertained by the shooting stars in the clear night sky. I have seen dirt in the creases of my hands and under my fingers’ nails and loved that in that moment I am one with the earth.
I am hopeful. I am hopeful because as I have seen these things and more in the wild, I must work to leave this earth better than I found it. The challenge is on us. And if you are still reading this, I suspect you feel the same.