Getting close to nature’s a sublime experience so why is protecting it not more of a priority?

Getting close to nature’s a sublime experience so why is protecting it not more of a priority?


Left, right, left, right. Pull, push, pull, push.

When you paddle along the stretch of the Colorado River that winds through Lake Mead National Recreation Area, you watch the water transform from a deep, dark hunter green to a light, emerald shimmer, transparent enough to expose whole trees submerged in the sand.

It is quiet, soothing.

But the real treat comes when you look up. Turkey vultures circle above the rocky Arizona peaks and bighorn sheep make their way along narrow paths carved into the mountains.

It is amazing to witness such vast, untamed wilderness, let alone to be a part of the scene.

Suburbanites often spend a great deal of time and energy fending off nature. Back home, in Chicagoland, we pave, fence, reinforce. But it is because of nature that we even exist.

There's nothing like a kayak trip at Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada to remind you how important it is to respect and protect nature, columnist Donna Vickroy says.

My husband and I try to remember that. We live on the edge of a wetlands. We love having nature for a neighbor, although safety and sanity demand boundaries. We maintain a fence to keep the coyotes at bay. Their den is just steps from our back yard. They have never encroached on our property and we have never invaded theirs.

We’ve had opossum on the patio, snakes in the landscaping, turtles next to the shed, and even a few deer that have hopped the fence to graze in my garden.

But we’ve also had the privilege of watching a pair of bald eagles soar overhead one January morning. And every summer, we are inundated with dragonflies, bees and butterflies.

We consider ourselves lucky to be so close to the natural world.

Which is why we enjoy kayaking. Sitting on the water, using muscle to power ourselves along, kayaking enables us to be there without being disruptive.

We have kayaked in the Caribbean, in Hawaii and at Maple Lake in the Cook County Forest Preserves. We’re hoping to do it again soon in Alaska. We’re not athletes by any stretch and we pay for the experience in sore muscles, but we like being outdoors and we like a challenge, even at this stage of the game.

So when my extended family started planning a birthday trip to the concrete, neon jungle known as Las Vegas because an aunt who’d never been there was turning 70, we immediately began Googling things to do besides feeding vices. Don’t get me wrong, we love a good party. But we’re not good losers when it comes to the casinos so we don’t even engage.

Among the things you might see if you kayak in the Lake Mead Reservoir in Nevada are bighorn sheep making their way along narrow paths carved into the mountains.

A friend recommended River Dogz kayaking at Lake Mead. Our guide picked us up at one of the hotels, supplied us with equipment and led our small group up the river and back, pointing out wildlife and discussing landscape wonders and woes along the way. It was a nice break from the bright lights and crazy chaos of Vegas.

And it was an important thing to do for people who love nature and are concerned about its future.

As you likely already know, there is an undercurrent of worry in America’s West. It is the same concern that plagues all of the world’s pristine places. Climate change is not only making our planet hotter, our storms stronger, our flooding heavier and our wildfires more out of control, it is eating away at water systems. With less mountain snow to feed the waterways, everything dependent on those systems suffers.

During the drive to the launch, I read a recent New York Times story about how dropping water levels are reducing the Colorado River’s power. The consequences extend well beyond the Grand Canyon, all the way to Lake Mead.

As we paddled, I wondered what this beautiful desert landscape would be without this amazing waterway that enables so much life to exist.

The earth is a gift to all of the flora and fauna that live on it. But to humans, it also is a responsibility, because we are the ones with the means to destroy it.

If we can construct a massive artificial playground right in the middle of the desert, we can surely do more to protect what is natural. But we have to want to.

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We have to want to stop overusing plastic, driving gasoline-powered vehicles more than necessary, eating copious amounts of red meat, spraying insecticides, over-fertilizing and buying fast fashion. And we have to want government policies that promote energy efficiency and protect our air and water. We have to be committed to paying this beautiful planet forward.

Columnist Donna Vickroy shoots a selfie of herself and her husband, Jim, as they kayak in the Lake Mead Reservoir in Nevada, about 24 miles outside of Las Vegas.

Like a lot of people of a certain age, my husband and I have our bucket lists of “places we want to see before we die.” Increasingly, our list is changing to “places we want to see before they die.”

We were in Switzerland last year, on a train ride through the Alps, when someone spotted a glacier. Everyone jumped up to snap a photo and talk turned to concern for threatened and disappearing glaciers. There were people from Norway and Argentina in our car. All of us expressed the same fear over the planet’s demise.

It’s not enough to simply get our middle-aged selves out there to see it before it’s gone. It’s not enough to check things off a list. We need to act. And we need to encourage others to act, as well.

Because even places like Sin City will suffer if we don’t take care of the planet that enables it to exist.

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Donna Vickroy is an award-winning reporter, editor and columnist who worked for the Daily Southtown for 38 years.