Last week I quoted the Director of our National Parks, Jon Jarvis as saying that, “We need to prepare parks for one million returning veterans where they can reestablish themselves, find peace and quiet.” I am pretty excited about this statement. One of the things that has me the most excited is because its nice to see a national leader starting to say some of the things we’ve been preaching here on this site and that is starting to be taken up as a chorus with a host of wonderful partners nation wide.
This past weekend, while reading Rick Bass’s wonderful account of the importance of caribou in America, Caribou Rising, I came across this passage on page 135 as Mr. Bass is describing his time stepping out into the Arctic Wilderness in Alaska:
“…the nature of the reassurance that people like me...get from big wild places, or even medium wild places, or even little wild places….has something to do with an element of sincerity…There’s a kind of logic, and a fit, that no earthly engineer could ever design, much less repair…When you enter a stretch of woods like this one, you are not manipulated by anyone or anything, nothing is being misrepresented or withheld, you are not being lobbied, no affection (or resentment) is being dispensed or withdrawn based on what you do or don’t do; there are no demons or past history in nature’s relationship to complicate yours, and perhaps most reassuring of all, nature is largely democratic—if not quite blind to the color of your skin, or any other physical characteristics, then at least nonjudgmental, impartial.”
It’s a wonderful thing, a wonderful sense of freedom that the wild places, big, medium, or small can provide for all of our service members, our veterans, and their families. In comparison to the millions of dollars our Nation has invested over the last ten years of war, trying to ‘solve’ veteran issues like homelessness, unemployment, 18 suicides a day and perhaps most troubling, an inability for veterans to reconnect to their communities, I wonder how much cheaper the solutions could be, if nature, simply committing to get our veterans and their families outside, were seen as the fundamental first step in mental health and community reintegration.
This is not to belittle the great work of the 125,000+ non-profits working on veteran issues (roughly 1 for every 20 of an estimated 2.5 million veterans), or to be ungrateful to the millions of dollars spent. I am thankful for those organizations and those who have given so much to support our Nation’s men and women who serve in the military and their families. I just wonder if we have not perhaps confused the order of how and when a host of other services come into play in the lives of our veterans, and if nature, the big, medium, or small wilderness Mr. Bass discusses, came in first, what offsets we would see. What investments might we not have to make at all, what money could be used to reinvest in American infrastructure, education, a whole host of other causes, if at first we invested in the outdoors?
Let’s hope America heeds Director Jarvis’ call to action for not just our National Parks, but for parks everywhere. You don’t need the immense wilderness of Alaska, though that’s fine if you’ve got it, you can find those small wilderness areas just about anywhere.
Meanwhile, if you can’t get outside, can’t find a small, medium, or large wilderness, don’t know what to do when you get there, or want some help, just ask. After all, that’s what we’re here for, not just to protect, but first to enjoy, and explore the planet.
~Stacy Bare, OIF Veteran
Military Families and Veteran Representative to the Sierra Club
"Helping America's Military and Veteran Community experience the freedom of the land they defend"