What but the wolf’s tooth whittled so fine the fleet hoof of the antelope?
—Robinson Jeffers


© Clement Mok/PictureQuest
© Clement Mok/PictureQuest

Some Buddhists maintain that every moment is a bardo state and every living or sentient creature is being incessantly reborn. I think it not a stretch to hold this tenet in one hand, in the other the Bodhisattva vow as it appears in theDiamond Sutra. That remarkable vow, one of literature’s most sinewy passages and at the core of Buddhist practice, makes explicit that all creatures of whatever description, named or unnamed, are to be brought with us on the Great Journey. This means mammals, birds, fish, plants, bacteria—whatever form a sentient creature takes.

But other evidence has been coming in at an alarming rate: sentient beings of every possible description are getting snuffed out across the planet. In fact, the pace of species extinction is proceeding much faster than in any previous period of loss (such as when the dinosaurs went down). What’s painful is that this current catastrophe is entirely due to human behavior. Most of the critters vanishing under the impact of our-of-control human civilizations have not even been cataloged by biologists. A friend puts it poignantly: “They have no names.”

Wildlands are being cut, plowed, bulldozed, and paved as I type and you read this little bardo piece. Ten years ago the Amazon rainforests were going “every forty seconds / the size of a football field / off to the lumber boats,” a piece of data so disheartening and vivid that after a decade the phrase still pulses in one’s mind. Yet in response there has been an encouraging and sometimes effective counter-movement, not just to protect vanishing species and threatened watersheds, but in many regions across the planet to reintroduce them. That’s why I sometimes tell friends, “Wilderness is not in the past but in the future.” What could this mean? Could the phrase be a koan—one unexplainable even to myself! My guess is it has something to do with humans as a species having a much clearer, better informed, more accurate idea of what wilderness is, what kind of impacts threaten it, and what measures might protect it, than we did only a few decades ago. Wildland recovery projects headed up by thoughtful activists look like they will remain a viable part of our future landscape.

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