Tougaw: Our lack of involvement with nature leads to our disrespect of it

Taylor Tougaw

For the last few weeks, I’ve been working at a luxury guest ranch that’s tucked away in the Rocky Mountains, south of Rocky Mountain National Park, smack dab in the middle of nowhere. Somehow, I’ve been blessed as a fishing guide up here. 

Now, I’ve always been a big proponent of living a tough, bushman lifestyle. I’ve always loved hiking, camping, shooting, fishing, what have you, even if I’m not very good at it. Yet there’s really something unexplainable and different about living out here instead of just visiting. We have no WiFi, no cell service, and we do not have a big town to get away to. That leaves a lot of time for self-reflection and to really soak in experiences you would never otherwise get.

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It seems to me that there is a huge disconnect between humans and nature – an us vs. them mentality – that is leading to unhappiness and a feeling of being ‘out of place’ for a lot of people.

My suggestion to the world is this: go outside. Seriously, go outside for a really long time. There is a part of you – some primal, deep-seated instinct – that will connect with being there. We humans aren’t as far removed from nature as we might think. 

This morning, the same day as I’m sitting down to write this, I was woken up at 5:00 am by a massive bull elk walking across the doorstep to my cabin. It was dark, there was steam rising off a nearby lake, and there he was just staring me right in the eye. It was an incredible moment, one I’m not likely to forget.

Many of you reading this will say “wow that’s so cool!” and you’re right in saying that – but that doesn’t have to just be my experience, it can be shared by everyone.

Think about how many high schools, colleges, and other organizations choose to represent themselves by comparing themselves to an animal? In other words, how many teams’ mascots are animals? Pretty much everyone. How many teams are called the eagles, the bears, the pumas, the lions, etc etc. This is because we view these animals as the embodiment of strength and success. Yet how many of us have actually interacted with these animals, much less seen one outside of a zoo? Even local animals that we have in Colorado like deer and elk are still seen as mildly exotic.

We love to paint pictures of trees and animals that we will never see and hang them up in squalid apartments in cities with hundreds of miles of concrete. We like to compare ourselves to bears and lions while bear and lion populations plummet to near extinction. 

I’d like to say that a quick trip and a few nights to Rocky Mountain National Park would fix this, but we’ve already doomed ourselves on that front too. It now costs $20 per day per person to enter RMNP, plus an extra $30 to stay overnight. This outrages me, but unfortunately, it makes sense. They have to pay so much money in maintenance to clean up after people who have absolutely no respect or understanding of the natural world.

Trash, smoldering fires, and wildlife harassment are daily occurrences for park rangers. The cost is used to supplement that work. 

Whether you are one of those people, or you’re some alpha male who’s hunted every species of hoofed animal on this continent, we all have a vested interest in the preservation of our wild areas, as well as getting in touch with it. I won’t preach about Leave No Trace, and I won’t drone on about the disappearance of species from every continent on this planet. But I do think that a lot of the problems I mentioned before, like the trashing of RMNP and the complete disappearance of animals from our lives can be traced back to one thing: the lack of our involvement with nature leads to our disrespect of it.

Once we start to understand nature, we can start to treat it, and by extension, ourselves, with a lot more respect.

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So go ride a horse. Go hiking. Go fishing. Seriously, just go outside.

Collegian Opinion Editor Taylor can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on twitter at @TTougaw