What Are “America’s Public Lands”?

24th of Aug 2017

By David James Duncan

“The basic mood of the future,” wrote Thomas Moore, “might well be one of confidence in the continuing revelation that takes place in and through the Earth. If the dynamics of the Universe from the beginning shaped the course of the heavens, lighted the sun, and formed the Earth, if this same dynamism brought forth the continents and the seas and atmosphere, if it awakened life in the primordial cell and then brought into being the unnumbered variety of living beings, and finally brought us into being and guided us safely through the turbulent centuries, there is reason to believe that this same guiding process is precisely what has awakened in us our present understanding of ourselves and our relation to this stupendous process.”

In this context, America’s public lands can be seen as a weave of places, weathery forces, flora, fauna, and intricacy to which people from all over the world rightfully flock like grateful birds to see Earth being Earth; see wildness intact; hear the blithe, polyphonous, frightening, beautiful, comical languages Earth speaks as she creates our lives and all life. This tapestry of land and mystery is not something we created or know how to create, and no corporate or political power can recreate it once their powers have torn the tapestry to shreds. These vast lands are our only reliable guides to continued abundant life; they are what enable biodiversity to diversify, natural selection to naturally select, and generations of American children to muck around, without fear of pollutants and poisons, in creek, pond and river shallows burgeoning with frogs, fingerlings and damsel flies.

Public lands in truth are governed not by temporal “governors” or “corporate persons” but by elemental and celestial harmonies as powerful as sun’s light and Earth’s spinning, yet as delicate as a hummingbird’s iridescent throat and orbweaver’s dew-bedecked web. These unexploited places and forces, to put it the ancient way, are our Mother, the living terrain her body, the flora her clothes, the lakes, rivers and rills her blood and arteries, the seasons and weathers her moods, the winds her whispers, the birds, fish, fauna, humans all, equally, her offspring. And every man, woman and child striving to defend her life—even in poverty or political impotence, even against seemingly hopeless odds—is not only a hero but an integral part of her, hence every bit as holy as she whom they seek to defend.

David James Duncan is the author of a half dozen books, including the novels The River Why, The Brothers K and a “fast response activist book” on the Highway 12 Mega-load story Heart of the Monster with Rick Bass. David has long been a practitioner of “direct, small-scale compassionate activism.” He and his wife live in western Montana.