Alone in a World of Wounds

The more a person knows about the complexity and fragility and inter-dependent webs within the living world, the more outrage and sadness and sense of powerlessness they are likely to suffer. Aldo Leopold said it well:

“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

That alone-ness once became so intolerable that I committed to sharing my concerns, to saying more and more about the wounds. Surely everyone must care! I had thought, with more voices, we could and would change our hurtful relationships with every part of the planet we have touched with our heavy hand.

But I am uncertain now that “the world” wants to know the truth of our predicament. And the Earth-aware–those ecologists and teachers and stewards who would make Earth’s wounds visible–are being silenced and marginalized and demonized and their voices muted from the highest office.

It is an uncomfortable and lonely place–here, damned if I do or don’t, seeing no good will come from the agonized scream of environmental outrage or the barely-audible whimper of mortally wounded helplessness.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Fred, it’s an uncomfortable and lonely TIME…We are in the middle of a political nightmare right now, and climate change appears nowhere in the current administrations’ agenda. They are very good at distracting us from the issues that really matter, sad to say.

  2. I can’t bear to allow myself to feel the pain of this nightmare as you are allowing yourself. I just have to “Let go, Let God”. I totally agree with your perceptions of the situation, and to my human eyes it is a tragedy of the highest order. All I can do is hope God is in charge, keep doing as I always have to support the cause of the envirnment, and “up my game” wherever I see an opportunity to do so.

  3. I discovered long ago the premise that if awareness is raised and knowledge is shared that all would be righted in the world; that knowledge alone would naturally result in right action, is a faulty one. It only works with a very limited number of people who value understanding and truth. Knowledge has a liberal bias to paraphrase a famous talk show host, and anything related to truthiness is a conspiracy.