Recently I learned that our Canadian federal government has cut a prairie land protection program called the Community Pasture Program. The government is turning care for grasslands outside the national park over to the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. There are people concerned about Saskatchewan’s plans to sell what remains of this fragile landscape at market value rates. They fear that much of what is left of the grasslands could be lost to development of different types and have started a petition to speak up for the continued protection of this land.
I do not live on the prairies but have travelled to Saskatchewan three times over the past few years. There we drove through vast plains and grasslands and hiked in the Grasslands National Park. What we experienced was a hauntingly beautiful land. Contrary to what I’d heard for years, I did not find the plains of Saskatchewan boring. While they are not dramatic like the Rockies, the grasslands have the deep, elemental feel of sky and land seen over huge distances. We felt in the presence of something ancient.
In Grasslands National Park, where we hiked on rolling hills and up buttes, we saw stones patterned by lichen, wildflowers, mule deer, sky and land in full circles as far as the eye could see. We felt a deep connection to this unadorned land and to life.
Generally, when looking at protecting parts of nature, people take different sides and fight with one another. We are divided by politics and by economics among all the other things we humans cannot agree on. However, I wonder whether we share something in common. And that is, a love of some aspect of nature, be it land or water, light or clouds, trees, flowers, other animals or, in this case, grasslands. This can only happen if we have had the chance to experience nature first hand in a way that matters to us and have not been deprived of the experience, say, in city neighbourhoods devoid of nature.
And although I write using the dividing words human and nature, I return to my first blog post where I thought we could use a new word to unite us—something like humanature. Because, although nature is generally defined as the world other than human, we are animals and a part of nature. If we learn to see ourselves and our place on earth in this way, new perspectives open from the question: why should I care if such and such a part of the natural world disappears, goes extinct or is polluted. If we see ourselves as part of nature, the protection of other parts of the natural world is really a protection of ourselves. Perhaps this seems far-fetched or poetic in the face of daily concerns with making a living and just getting by. However, I don’t think so. I believe that to save and restore what we call the natural world is actually a way of saving and revitalizing humanity.