People who have never lived near grasslands do not always see their beauty. Driving on a fast highway does very little to enhance human appreciation for scenery of any kind, really.
While speeding along at up to a hundred and twenty kilometers an hour, people observe large objects such as trees, lakes and mountains, but see nothing of the ecosystem in all its exquisite detail. Children these days are often encouraged to look at mini television screens while traveling in a vehicle- not out the window at the world outside.
A magnificent moose with a seven-foot set of antlers, wading in a marsh below the Coquihalla Highway, is hard to spot as a vehicle hurtles by. Inside the air-conditioned vehicle, behind tinted glass, the aural element is also censured out, so we don’t hear the autumn leaves rattling in the breeze, the cry of a loon or the ticking calls of tiny migratory birds. Scents are edited out too- the rich aroma of moist soil in a rainforest, the whiff of sage among bunchgrass in the Okanagan, the salt air near the sea.
We humans course along a thousand highways around one of the most spectacular areas in Canada, free to roam but encapsulated in small, rubber-tired sensory deprivation chambers. We’ve paved paradise in trade for movement of goods, services and personal choice in travel, and now many of us are so busy with the travel that we don’t even notice what’s around the asphalt.
Many adults cannot remember the last time we stood in a forest clearing simply to enjoy that place. Many of us may not have waded across a stream since we were children, and many more have never walked in desert or Badlands, or sat still awhile to watch and hear the goings-on in a marsh. Children too often have their time scheduled so tightly that even they can’t imagine doing such things.
You may have heard about the studies that have revealed children with learning disabilities, autism and attention deficit disorders improve in both mood and concentration if they spend time on the way to school in natural areas. Trees, gardens and wild grasses are good to be around. Even a window that affords glimpses of distant greenery has been shown to reduce domestic violence for families in cities.
West Coast residents are blessed to live in a gorgeous region filled with ‘natural heritage’. Rich or poor, people all around British Columbia have the great good fortune to be able to access stunning natural areas within a short drive or bus trip.
Natural heritage areas – rivers, lakes, ocean, forests, mountains, wetlands, grasslands and deserts- are best enjoyed in quiet… using feet, snowshoes or skis and paddles instead of tires, treads and engines. See it, feel it, catch its scent and even taste it. When you’re out of your car and on foot, you can feel the loamy or gravelly earth, smell the pine or cedar trees, hear the birds and taste some spruce needle tea.
Once in a while, the government sells off a parcel of Crown Land because it has the impression that the people don’t care about it. It’s ours- yours and mine. It belongs to the people of the future.
We need to stay connected to our natural places. I beseech you – next time you travel the highway, take some time to get out of your vehicle and spend just half an hour in a spot that’s naturally beautiful. You may be amazed by what you find – and appreciate- just a few steps away from the road.