We teach lessons about character, strength, and compassion. We tell young people stories about animals and the places where they live, and in so doing, we grind and shape the lens that they look through. Over time, our imaginations shape our consciousness. In the minds of adults, our imaginations and the views that flow from them provide texture to daily life. Then, of course, our day-to-day activities go on to shape the contents of the air we breathe, the quality of our waterways, the number and type of animals with whom we share our lives—even the look of the landscape itself.
But something happens in between a youth spent listening to stories about animals and adulthood. We send young kids to school. During our education, we learn that our futures require us to fulfill roles in the economy. For at least twelve years we please our teachers. In so doing, we learn how we might one day please a boss. We learn to sit quietly, listen, stand patiently, wait, do homework, and meet deadlines.
We learn that each state in the union is endowed with its own set of resources and industries. In the East, we learn that mountain tops, if removed properly, reveal seams of sought-after coal. On the coasts, fishermen can trawl the ocean bottoms for a bounty of lobster. On the prairies of the West, cattlemen range their herds of black Angus and Herefords. Through the institution of education, we learn to see the world, and our role in this life, from the standpoint of economics.
The United States is a new nation. When European settlers landed on the east coast of North America, they brought an expansionist frame of mind. White Europeans removed or displaced native people and animals wherever they conflicted with the landscapes they imagined as ideal. In the East, the transformation meant the clearing of forests to make room for new cropland.follow site
In the Midwest, it involved the development of factories, and in the basins between the peaks and ranges of the West, ranchers saw large swaths of grass as a means to provide forage for cows and calves. Our tendency toward expansion fueled the physical transformation of North America, and by the late twentieth century, through the workings of the global marketplace, the transformation of the Earth.
Stocks of cod and tuna dropped to dangerously low levels. People suffer the effects of poor air quality in cities around the globe, the chemicals of agriculture poison stores of freshwater, and the threat of rising seas loom over people living near coastlines. In many ways, the prairies of the West foretold the changes that would happen on a wider scale.
Today, we find prairie dogs present on two percent of the range they occupied prior to our division of the West into U. Black-tailed prairie dog numbers dipped so low at the end of the twentieth century, biologists requested that politicians place them on the endangered species list. We rounded up more than two million wild horses and then sold them to meat packers who disassembled them and ground them into dog food. The pace of change moved quick across the prairie and over the continent. In the span of two generations, trees fell, cities rose, and rivers found themselves impounded behind the walls of dams.
Here in the twenty-first century, however, we stand in a position that differs from that of our predecessors. The trajectory of U. Barring any unforeseen move to colonize other nations, or another planet, we possess all of the land mass that we can. Out of necessity, as Americans, we find our thoughts moving from expansion to the question of what comes next.
In spite of immigration, the size of the U. Demographers predict a point, within this century, when the U. The Baby Boom generation is growing old. An increasing number of couples make the choice to forego the business of raising kids. The economy will keep changing and expanding, but when analysts that work for the International Monetary Fund imagine the future, they picture modest rates of growth. With our cities and infrastructures bending under the weight of time, and the rabid transformation of the North American landscape awfully close to complete, we find ourselves in a predicament.
We are an aging group of people, looking for ways to live well in a wounded world that we helped to create. During the last half of the twentieth century, the population of rural counties in the West began to shrink. It turns out that agribusinesses only provide a small number of job opportunities, and modest wages for their employees.
Predictably, young people raised in farm and ranching towns began to move to cities to look for new lives and careers. As a result of the decline in rural communities, and a well-documented tendency for cattle to overgraze and damage public land, two New Jersey-based academics, Frank and Deborah Popper, made a suggestion. From the halls of Rutgers University, they proposed that we take back parts of the public property that we lease to agribusinesses. For years, they received death threats through the mail and over the telephone. Of course, the Poppers only pointed out the obvious.
Beef production on public land is a dubious undertaking.
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The arrangement allows a small number of ranching enterprises to support themselves. In exchange, we permit cows to devour and trample the vegetation on public property. We let cattle foul our waterways with urine and feces, and we grant agribusiness people permission to shoot, trap or poison any living thing that is not a cow or clump of grass. In other countries, citizens and governments have cooperated to transform public land that has been stripped of wildlife into places where people can put themselves into contact with trees, grasses, and animals.
In cultures around the world, individuals and organizations are moving to create preserves where untamed beasts can thrive. Their family tree has roots that extend back to the first group of equines that crossed from their birthplace in North America, across the Bering land bridge, to what is now Siberia. In , the entire population of takhi on Earth included horses held mostly in European zoos. With the help of researchers from the Smithsonian, by , the population had swelled to roughly one thousand.
In the decade that followed, the nation of Mongolia underwent a transition toward democracy. Five previous generations could only read about takhi in books or hear about them in stories, but today, groups of children visit reserves to view and study bands of wild horses. Similarly, in , conservationists and government agents in the Netherlands collaborated to create a fifteen-thousand-acre reserve for mammals, birds, and plants.
They call the region the Oostvaardersplassen. With the help of American biologists, a team assessed the capacity of the space to provide habitat. The group settled on an initial release of wild horses, long since missing from the Dutch landscape.
They also released a group of bovines called Heck cows. Not long after the large animals began to graze the grass of the reserve, foxes, muskrats, and red deer arrived on their own. Then attendants began to record sightings of eagles, goshawks, kestrels, kingfishers, and a rare example of a black buzzard. Today, travelers pay a forty-dollar fee to take a tour of the Oostvaardersplassen.
I applaud the rewilding efforts that have taken place in Europe and Asia. I am reluctant to suggest a widespread plan to rewild a large portion of the United States. I enjoy my life too much to court any death threats, and I am also skeptical about plans to return the Earth or big parts of it to a state that existed prior to the industrial revolution. I am afraid that we would find the move to turn back the clock a challenge.
Pure buffalo, with no domestic cow genes, are extremely rare. The passenger pigeon went extinct. Plus, over time we changed things in ways that I appreciate. I like the brown trout from Germany that swim in Rocky Mountain streams, for example.
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I am also fond of the ring-necked pheasants we imported from Asia. Of course, in North America, any honest attempt to rewild the place would require us to return large tracts of land to Native people. Neither our personal happiness or the health of the planet depend on our ability to return parts of our habitat to an historic state—not when the present is full of beauty and the future still holds potential.
At the moment, we have a policy on the books that protects wild horses in herd management areas across ten U. I began to realize that I grew up in a culture that edited Native Americans. And I was a product of it. Hansen saw an irony in the fact that, in taking on a childlike art form, he chose to do an image of the elder Big Head. He also liked that the image was personal and nuanced, compared to the overly simplistic connect-the-dots he did in childhood. Hansen found a solution by tapping into his inner child — he started scribbling.
Hansen says that, in the middle of the process, he experienced a dark night of the soul. He needed more than 9, dots to beat the world record set in — but he really wanted to exceed that by several orders of magnitude.
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Landing on a system of rows and columns was key, as it showed him how to space out the dots to create airiness and where to pack them in for density. Soon, Hansen ran into another challenge: how should he number his puzzle? With more than 50, dots, most of the numbers involved were five digits long. His solve can be seen at the bottom left of the piece. The key moves you through symbols: triangles, square, letters with special squiggles.
This system allowed each dot to be numbered with just three handwritten marks. With all his planning done, Hansen and his team began to execute the piece. His work surface: 12 sheets of posterboard, glued together. He chose a fine-tipped pen for the numbering, and Copic Markers for the dots themselves. He says the act of drawing the 52, dots was strangely meditative.
One worked through the day; the other through the evening. It took Hansen and his numbering team more than hours to finish the piece. When it was complete, he contacted the Guinness Book of World Records.
Guinness officials asked for documentation of everything — the column system, the numbering key, images of the actual making. But there was one big thing they demanded before they could approve the record: They needed to see someone solve the puzzle. Hansen hired a colleague, Tyler Zwirtz, to do this.