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Four Simple Words...

Linguists contend that what we say and how we say it is a mirror - of beliefs, of culture, of everything that defines us as human beings. That is why I found myself several years ago turning four simple words over in my mind like a worry stone: manages as a resource.

I first heard those four words from a Forest Service manager. As in, manage the river as a resource, or manage the forest as a resource. Then I heard the words at the Division of Wildlife's (DWR) Regional Advisory Council (RAC) meetings. I heard them every time I attempted to discuss an issue with an employee of the DWR, the Forest Service, with anyone involved with "managing the land."

The words became like a needle stuck in the groove of an old 45. They were at the heart of something vital, yet, as someone with little experience working on environmental issues, I couldn't put my finger on it.

That was until I understood that the term "resource" means something useful only to us: recreation, energy, lumber, meat. I was up against the language of resource economists-- language that converts ecology into input- output models, forests into commodity production systems, and uses metaphors of human economy in referring to Nature.

I have been pinned to the wall in Forest Service and RAC meetings. I have even been stopped in the grocery store, repeatedly asked what precisely my personal interest is in preserving wildness, in protecting indigenous species. I don't hunt, I'm not a rancher, I'm not an oil baroness: why should I care? And every time, words fail me. Without the technical expertise to argue in precise "expert" terms, I often feel angry and impotent. More often than not, I feel beaten by "the system."

The words that I want to say are more like scripture, like the language of life itself. They are messy, repetitive, terrifying, often deeply sensual, full of tragic twists and unaccountable grandeurs.

I want to say that this wild place we call the Uintas is my home. That the Uintas are a place where there are not just trees, but trees that I know in particular. Not just screech owls, but the one that woos me each evening from atop a dead Ponderosa outside my bedroom window. That to ask what good are pine martens or cougars in the Uintas is like asking what good are sisters, brothers, or friends. That the Uintas are so acutely precious that to speak of them in presumptively objective terms is painful. And that somehow, sitting in a closed room and using the language of resource economy, robs the Uintas, at least for the moment, of their magical, mortal, sensual permutations.

But when I use my language, I see eyes roll back in heads. I am labeled as sentimental, irrational, unrealistic. Some label me as crazy.

There are times that I think of going to graduate school, of learning their language, of inculcating myself into their tribe. I think of becoming a Trojan horse, a stowaway on their ship with a radically different set of values.

Then a voice deep inside tells me no. In thinking that any good can come from my going to graduate school, I am committing the common mistake of placing man at the center of a model, man at the center of metaphor. I know that it is not me, not HUPC, not resource economists, not any of us, who are capable of making the land whole again, but rather the land, fragmented as it is, hurt though it may be, that is still giving and nurturing, still laboring- if only we engage with it; if only we love it, that will make us whole, make us fully alive again.

In the end, I believe that objectivity is no match for passion. Yet however much passion for the natural world we have, I have come to know that human words are not fit to describe it. And however much passion we have, it's probably not enough yet.

Stacy Williams

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