My seven-year-old brother has an Xbox, my fifteen-year-old brother has an iPod, and my twenty-year-old brother has a PDA. I have none of the above. Recently, when my parents asked me which gadget I’d like as a graduation gift, I said, “None.” I want something larger than a three- or four-letter acronym, and it doesn’t come in a compact, portable variety. I want the mountains.
When my older brother heard me say that I want the mountains, he responded, “You’re greedy.” And he has a good point. Hold an iPod against a background of mountains, and it will be easy to see which is more obtrusive. But, by saying that I want the mountains, I don’t mean to be materialistic. I mean that I aim to live more simply so that I may learn to protect them.
As the prototypic symbol of accomplishment, the mountain peaks are my motivator. I met the mountains when I worked for the Yellowstone Youth Conservation Corps during the summer. When I arrived in Montana, I fell in love with the frosty-blue peaks and learned that I could best relate to them by living in a way that protects them.
During my two-month visit, I learned about and practiced low-impact living. Since I was in the mountains, I could easily observe the ill effects of people’s carelessness. I saw mountains wounded by strip mining, mountains infected by pollution, and mountains battered by hikers who just didn’t know how to treat the towering treasures. Like a mother to a child, I was troubled to see the mountains suffering.
Here in flat Indiana, where I see mountains only when I stare at the clouds and squint, living a low-impact life is more difficult. I reduce; I reuse; I recycle; but it doesn’t seem like enough. So I fight. More than once, I’ve felt like crying when my parents have insisted that I drive (and thus pollute the environment) or when one of my brothers has thrown a piece of paper in the trash instead of in the recycling. My tears aren’t a product of fear; I want to cry because I miss and love my mountains.
But I don’t cry. I recognize each well of tears as a sign that I am still not doing enough for the mountains, and I respond to each by doing less to harm the environment.
I don’t want my parents to simply give me the mountains as a graduation gift. I don’t deserve them. Rather, I want to learn to improve my style of living, to live in a way that favors nature, so that I may someday be worthy of a home among the mountains.
I believe that nature is the most reliable source of happiness.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.