We walk the land they helped set aside for conservation. We retell their stories and we strive to meet the standards they set as leaders and mentors in the care of a living planet. We remember them.
As we celebrate their memory, the next generation of environmentalists are given something to aspire towards. But the work of an environmentalist is not entirely about what we remember. It is also about what is left behind long after the memory has faded.
The environmentalist’s most lasting legacy can be found in wooded hillsides and soggy wetlands, in the chatter of spring birds and the bouncing hum of June bugs in summer. It lives on in the layers of soil that build up on the forest floor and in the braids and oxbows of a river free to stretch along its floodplain. Generations down the line, the full legacy of today’s environmentalists will reach maturity.
This dual legacy, the memories we hold and what has long faded into the landscape, reflects the way environmentalists are drawn to this calling in the first place. The day to day work of weaving together moral and scientific arguments is a deeply collaborative effort. From four-year old’s catching green frogs at a forest-preschool to tenured professors of climatology expounding on the dynamics of carbon sequestration, each of us stands as a social connection through which new environmentalists are invited into the fold. And, of course, nature has its own way of calling to us. Something as small and fleeting as the husky hoot of a barred owl at dusk can set one on the path to becoming an environmentalist.
However we arrive, over time we grow familiar with the rhythms of the earth around us and move from speaking on behalf to speaking from within. Long before any notion of legacy takes root, the boundary between environmentalist and the environment begins to break down.
As you contemplate your own legacy as a steward, as a lover of nature, as an environmentalist, take a moment to not only see the forest for the trees but to place yourself in that forest. Look around. These trees with their towering canopies, the soil of microbes and fungi underfoot, the cardinal puffed up in the cold, these are environmentalists too.
of the Mad River