I grew up in the flatlands of Indiana with little reference to just how high a mountain could be. I have been given the opportunity to travel around and see the rocky skyline of Arizona and the winding pine-covered mountains of the Adirondacks. However, neither of these experiences could have prepared me for the Himalayas. From where I stand just a little outside of Dharmsala, I am surrounded by towering, snow-covered piles of ragged rock looking down from their 17,000 ft. podium. They pierce the blue and cloudless sky, demanding that on the days the world is clear enough to get a view, we must all stop and stare. I often find myself zoning up, wondering what it would feel like to stand on top of one.
It is hard not to feel small when I look up at them, and it is hard not to feel small when I look around and reflect on home. More trash on the beaches of Holland, more plastic covering grocery store isles and more cars on the road than ever before leave me feeling rather insignificant in the fight against environmental degradation. I want to look up and say that untouched places still exist. That the “wild” is still alive in our world. However, every inch of our planet has been impacted by the existence of the human race. The trash, the plastic and the cars are all here, too. Upon coming to understand this, I realize that the point of the fight is not to keep the more removed places completely separate from us but to find a way to coexist. I don’t believe this means promoting more eco-tourism or developing our natural landscapes but simply making choices that respect our interconnectedness to these places.
Throughout my time in the Himalayas, I have been privileged to meet huge quantities of people that live their lives seeking a mutually beneficial relationship with the mountains, people that farm, and consume mindfully and share what they have with those around them. I have spent a long time thinking that my separation from “real” nature growing up made me work harder to appreciate it more. Although I don’t think this is inaccurate, I think there is also an argument to be made for the positive impact growing up in an urban environment had on my environmentalism. Although all cities still have a long way to go, they coexist to let the resilience of other living things shine through. The plants growing through cracks in the cement, the family of geese occupying human-made ponds and the small corner blocked off for parks are now my inspiration. Interconnectedness also means that we hold just as much power in our hands to make these changes reality as the mountains do to inspire the change.