"These are difficult times, transformative times – times of extreme actions especially within our national parks. Extreme drought. Extreme fires. Extreme development with extreme policy shifts needed in the name of global warming. The world is changing dramatically, both ecologically as well as politically. But I believe our greatest transformation as a species will be spiritual. The word 'we' must include all species.
"The religious scholar Karen Armstrong says compassion is an act, not an emotion. If it were an emotion, it would be discomfort. If we are to understand compassion for Other, we must cultivate the emotions of discomfort and disturbance. By embracing the word 'umvelt,' honoring the world as it is experienced by different people, animals, and organisms, our capacity to imagine and empathize will bring us into a more authentic relationship with the Earth. Humility in the face of humanity allows us to see ourselves as 'one species among many' not the indomitable center of a human-developed world.
"Arvol Looking Horse is the nineteenth-generation keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe bundle and a spiritual leader among the Lakota. He and others are calling for 'the Great Healing' to address this separation from the land and each other. 'The natural world does not discriminate. We must unite or perish.'
"When we enter places of grandeur and sites of suffering, and inhabit landscapes of historical import and ecological splendor, we stand on the periphery of awe. How did this happen? Who were the witnesses? And what are we seeing now? The American landscape has a voice, many voices. It becomes us. Our national parks are a burning bush of identities.
"This deeper understanding of our individual and shared histories, both human and wild, allows us to touch and be touched by what has occurred in the past and what remains as we contemplate what we can create together by listening to one another with an open heart.
"Cesar Chavez said, 'After thirty years of organizing poor people, I have become convinced that the two greatest aspirations of humankind are equality and participation.' If we can learn to listen to the land, we can learn to listen to each other. This is the beginning of ceremony.
" 'It is time to weep and sing,' wrote W. H. Auden. At a low ebb of hope, I asked my friend Doug Peacock how he staves off despair – this is the man who kept a map of Yellowstone in the back pocket of his fatigues throughout the war and would unfold it at night to keep insanity at bay.
" 'Insulate yourself with friends and seek out wild places,' he said."