Ruth Crystal: Stepping Back, Looking Close

With a major in environmental studies and a minor in international development, being stressed and feeling helpless has sadly become my norm after a long day of classes. One class tells me that ecosystems are being destroyed and resources are running low. Another tells me the tragedies of rural cultures being forced into the globalized economy. To top it off, statistics on ice melt, sea level rise, and human emissions are thrown in my face to scare me into saving the planet. Needless to day, my mindset has been in panic mode for the past two years with little relief. I believed that the world is ending, it’s all our fault, and this dramatic of a change shouldn’t happen.

Too overwhelmed to think of a next move, I decided to remove myself from the chaos, refresh my mind, and see if a semester in the wilderness could help put my thoughts in order. Since day one on the Colorado Plateau, I have been in a constant state of awe as my mind adjusts to this incredible environment. In one month alone, I have seen a meteor shoot aquamarine across the clouded, night sky, watched the desert landscape steadily shift gears into a lush, spring oasis, literally walked in the footprints of dinosaurs, and sensed is much beauty it would not do justice to attempt at an explanation. In other words, I have successfully removed my body and mind from the world of chaos I was once so close with. As this family of 10 students and three instructors pass through these canyon walls, we take time to realize were we are. These walls are more than mere layers of rock, rather, these trails taking us along the wash and river are trails taking us through millions upon millions of years of Earth’s history!


Four billion years of shifting tectonic plates, cosmic collisions, and dramatic climatic shifts, and yet we are still shocked to collect data that indicates our climate is yet again shifting. This may seem like a simple connection to make, but for me, this concept only sunk in a few weeks ago. Seeing, hearing, touching, understanding where we exist allowed me to step back from the panic of climate change and look at the situation from afar. For two years, information on climate change was presented to me as a blame game on humans’ destructive nature towards the environment. Even though it is scientifically proven that humans are contributing significantly to our warming climate, paradoxically, I now feel at ease. For the first time in a long time, I feel okay. One moment we are face to face with cave paintings of past civilizations of the plateau region. The next, we are holding hands with the raised prints of mud loving dinosaurs. Taking a step back to gaze towards the rim of the canyon up above, sometimes so high it’s difficult to focus, a timeline of sediment layers is presented to us as clear as anything. Here, in the land of canyons, I’ve realized the earth runs on geologic time, not human time.


With this paradigm shift, I now have insight that the earth is resilient and designed for change. The earth will continue on past this warming period with or without us. This can be comforting on a broader scale and can allow us to reground our thoughts, however, climate change is still a present reality and a threat to all species of life, not just humans. So now, we are faced with a choice. A choice as to how we want to be remembered in the sediment layers. A choice to be remembered in Earth’s geologic textbook not as the most selfish species ever that continued to ignorantly dominate the landscape, but as the species that woke up and made a difference. Over four billion years of change and evolution was not done so to pave the way for humans to alter the landscape and make it our own. It took an asteroid to wipe out the several million reign of the dinosaurs. Do we want to be our own asteroid and end our reign, or do we want to make changes to give the rest of the planet a fighting chance to survive past this climatic shift? Step back from everyday chaos. Look closer at where we live. Take this opportunity to write a positive chapter in geologic history.

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