Posted by: Brad Nixon | December 31, 2018

The Wild Lands of 2019 Beckon

As the new year approaches, I rejoice that I didn’t set out nine years ago to write a blog about politics and social issues. Considering the political landscape that looms in 2019, I’d simply despair and spend my time reading the classics, beginning with Dante: Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate, and all that.

Instead, I chose to write about literature, architecture, travel and the outdoors.

Ah, let’s go outdoors and breathe the clear, politics-free air at 10,000 feet!

Bristlecone Brad Nixon 1426 680

As far as the eye can see in that photograph, California’s White Mountains are covered with groves of Ancient Bristlecone Pines, many of them more than 4,000 years old. We’ve escaped! We’re free! We’ll stay here with the world’s oldest living things in peace and harmony. No nasty politics.

Or, for a change of scene (and to escape the snow that’s now several feet deep where I shot that photo in September, 2018), let’s flee to the New Mexico desert. We’ll hike around Chaco Canyon and marvel at the ruins of the ancient Puebloan culture from about 1200 c.e., free from political discord.

Chaco Canyon Fajada view Brad Nixon 4041 (640x480)

And, if we still have that cooped-up feeling, then it’s north … to Alaska! We’ll be safe there!

Denali fall Brad Nixon 1901 300 680

Obviously, if I believe “politics” aren’t at work in these places, I’m an idiot. They’re all in the United States, and the mendacious, kleptocratic miscreants who run the agencies that manage these lands are taking aggressive strides to remove protections from them and issue numerous permits and licenses for drilling, mining, logging and ranching.

Nevada mine scene Brad Nixon R1 015 6 (640x411)

As it happens, those wild places pictured above are relatively well protected. Alaska’s Denali National Park and New Mexico’s Chaco Culture National Historical Park can’t be impinged on without radical action that might even be resisted by the complacent and spineless U. S. Senate. Maybe. As for the Bristlecones, they’re in a protected area controlled by the U. S. Forest Service. There’s no immediate threat to development within the boundaries of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest I’m aware of.

Bristlecone Brad Nixon 1464 680

But the government is doing all it can to free up more land for exploitation — often immediately adjacent to these places, or just as sensitive — eliminating protected status, all for the benefit of the oil and mining companies for whom the administrators of federal agencies have until recently worked.

In Alaska, they’re pushing to expand oil exploration into the critically sensitive Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

There’s a looming threat of permits being issued at the very boundary of Chaco Canyon to allow natural gas drilling there which which will — inevitably — damage or erase innumerable prehistoric sites, as well as wide tracts of wild or near-wild land.

MV Chaco Canyon Brad Nixon 2963 (640x480)

In 2018, I devoted a number of blog posts to examining the question of our place as humans in the “natural” world. To what extent does being human exempt us from even being part of nature? Do we have carte blanche to declare any area to be no longer part of nature so we can do what we want with it?

My examples are from the U.S., but many countries have national parks, preserves and protected areas. The same sort of corrupt, selfish pseudo-stewards of public land are at work everywhere, attempting to limit or even shrink how much of the earth we safeguard.

If, ultimately, the bad guys win and declare that nothing matters too much because none of what people do causes climate change or long-term degradation of the planet, we’re lost. “Ignore what science says,” they tell us. “They can’t prove a thing. Our gut instinct says everything will be fine.”

That’s why I put the Bristlecones in this article. They’re in a pretty good place up there. They even resist wildfire to a great extent, thanks to their incredibly dense wood and the fact that almost nothing else grows where they do: There’s little near them to catch fire. No one’s threatening to cut them down for firewood or dig on those slopes for precious metals or coal.

Bristlecone Brad Nixon 1430 680

But they’ve prospered up there through an astounding chain of adaptations that equip them specifically for that place with precisely those conditions. They grow at an almost imperceptible pace in the harshest possible circumstances, with the bare minimum of nutrients. They live on a knife’s edge of resources for 3,000 or 4,000 years, and continue to produce viable seeds throughout their lives.

But if the climate crashes beyond some tipping point, warming too far, or if the atmosphere becomes too toxic, they won’t make it, any more than the rest of us will. They can’t change fast enough, and they can’t migrate. They occupy the only place on the planet they can live.

I look forward to 2019. I hope to hike, explore, stand, listen, breathe and gawk. Maybe I’ll get back to northern California and see more of the Redwoods, the world’s tallest trees.

Redwood National Park Brad Nixon 7396 (640x480)

When you’re there, you see immense stands of those mighty beings. “Limitless,” you might think. In fact, we have only about 3% of the Redwoods that were standing when Europeans first arrived on the continent. We cut the rest of them down for lumber.

That’s what’s known as “forest management” in a number of administrative departments.

It’s a new year. Let’s go! Let’s hike, swim, climb. But we’re not free from the need to vote, call our representatives and do whatever else it takes, because those forests, mountains, rivers, lakes, deserts and seashores are full of political import, friends. We’re going to have to deal with that, too, like it or not, and not just here in the U.S.

Take plenty of photos while you’re out hiking. If we mess this up, they’re all we’ll have left.

Olympic NP Brad Nixon 7819 (640x480)

I’ll see you in 2019. Happy New Year.

© Brad Nixon 2018


  1. Happy New Year to you as well Brad!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. After you came up with “mendacious, kleptocratic miscreants,” there’s really not much left to say. How you crafted such a beautiful — almost poetic — phrase to point to such ugly realities is a marvel. It also happens to be true.

    Your suggestion that photos may be all we have left to us should the MKMs have their way reminded me of what happened after the fire at Brazil’s museum. Students began collecting photos and videos of the collections immediately; others joined in the effort, and a remarkable photo gallery now exists. But photos are not the reality.

    Gabi Sobral, a Brazilian paleontologist who was quoted in an article in The Atlantic said, “In theory, I am accustomed to the loss and incompleteness of scientific knowledge.. [but] those holes [that caused the fire] are man-made.They were the result of bad infrastructure that we knew was there. We failed the collection.”

    Let’s hope we don’t fail the natural world in the same way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amen. The ignorant knuckleheads are doing their best … which happens to be the worst. I hope our best will prevail. A happy new year to you.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Brad does know how to turn a phrase. One of my favs of his: “No one likes to get their goat got.” He was writing about one of his favorite literary masterpieces, Beowulf. He wrote this many years ago, but I still remember it like it was yesterday.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks, LaBoheme. Let me just say that you hold your own. A happy new year!


  3. The natural world gives so much to us, its human animals. We owe it our constant vigilance, care and protection. Only through vigorous activism will the best prevail.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your ongoing efforts!


    • As we’re also having a little chat here about the language arts, I also happen to remember a little gem that The Counselor came up with when we were in a museum: “Frilly French furniture.” Beautiful alliteration and at the same time, so perfectly descriptive of what we were viewing.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, those Bristle Cone Pines are really old trees. The oldest Trees in this part of North America are Hemlocks at 700 Years old, which is still old, but not nearly as old as the ones in California. I thought I saw a tree that might have been shaped by Native Americans last summer, like it points the way to something, It looked so much like the tree was deliberately shaped to point to a direction. Of Course it could have just been my imagination playing tricks. But I know they did shape trees like that before this area was settled in the late 1700s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting. That’s something I didn’t know.


  5. There you go – feeding my wanderlust with stunning images of places I have yet to visit!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You are right, Brad. Take photos of everything beautiful around you. Who know if we’ll see it tomorrow.
    Once, we bought plane tickets to Siria and booked a hotel. We wanted to visit ancient greek ruins. But the war started and we were forced to call off our trip. Are those ruins still there? I hope they are.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A daunting thought. Large numbers of ancient monuments ARE gone in many parts of the world — something that’s been going on throughout humankind’s existence.
      I know you practice the other aspect of this subject: Looking and SEEING those places, because memory is a picture of particular value.
      I mourn the fact that large swaths of the world are, essentially, off-limits to me due to conflict, just as you experienced. It’s unlikely I’ll ever go there. I hope I value what I CAN see all the more.

      Liked by 1 person

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