A few years ago, I started the Shared Paths project, visiting places that inspired some of the world’s influential naturalists and environmentalists. The idea came out of my own connection to a particular landscape in Montana, realizing that my relationship to a Place has shaped my life and worldview. I wanted to explore such geographical bonds through others’ experience, to share their path through the lands that inspired them, and delve into how a connection to a natural landscape enriches one’s life.
I’ve done four of these journeys, ten nights each, wild camping solo in the backcountry. The first was in 2016, in the arctic-alpine of Norway, at the base of Hallingskarvet mountain, the place that inspired Arne Naess. Naess was the force behind the Deep Ecology movement, a man who cared deeply about “free nature” and human society as well.
For eleven days I immersed in the place Naess called Tvergastein, exploring his deep ecology philosophy and the idea of “beautiful action” in regard to the earth: an inclination to care for the planet beyond moral or ethical demands. This was a life changing journey, a time of beauty and challenge. From the journey grew a book manuscript.
Next I plunged into the depths of Canyonland National Park, walking in the arid canyons that inspired the radical environmentalist Ed Abbey. Honestly though, I often turned to Mary Austin, another naturalist who found her muse in the desert. She provided a nice balance to Ed, a man who I found rather abrasive and not thoroughly likeable, with his drinking and womanizing. In the end, the Canyonlands trip became a reflection on “Where Ed meets Arne” – two men who came at the same ideas from different directions. That is a complexity I’m still unraveling.
My third journey was into Cairngorm National Park, Scotland, sharing paths with Nan Shepherd. Nan didn’t fit into the category of “highly influential” naturalists, as most people outside of Scotland have never heard of her, and much of her work and writing wasn’t focused on nature. But Nan’s intimate connection with the mountain landscape is truly inspirational. There in the Cairngorms, Nan spoke to me in ways that made me think about my own connection to a wild place. Based on this trip, my book in progress explores a sense of belonging to a place, and how that sense of belonging can expand into something that … well, that takes a book to explain. The narrative weaves together my sense of belonging to a Montana landscape, my growing relationship to Scotland’s Highland landscape, and Nan’s connection to the Cairngorm mountains.
In April, I traveled to the southwest deserts of the US, the arid lands that inspired Joseph Krutch, philosopher and naturalist. Krutch often wrote of the “beautiful balance” in the natural world. I made that the focus of this trip; exploring that balance, the historical context behind that concept, and what that means in the world of today. The journey took me to the Sonoran Desert outside Tucson and then into the Grand Canyon. I’m not yet done with Joseph Krutch. He was a complex man, and a deep thinker. I’m still following his path.
My next shared path is planned for Olaus and Mardy Murie. I’ll be in Alaska and will spend time in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which exists due to their hard work.
Shared Paths. Inspirational landscapes. Inspirational people. There’s no turning back now.