My husband and I are on vacation in Kauai, an island formed from lava rising out of the sea over 5 million years ago. We drove up to Waimea Canyon, a gorge that was called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” by Mark Twain. As you gaze onto the walls of red rock you can see the layers of volcanic activity over those millions of years. Standing there in the presence of this ancient grandness evokes in me tremendous awe and humility. We also get to watch giant green sea turtles swimming in the bay outside of our condo window, diving and surfacing for air. Endangered creatures now, sea turtles have been around for 200 million years, surviving dinosaurs and the ice age, but in danger from human poaching.
There is a sense of great solace in the presence of ancient things and places. They have been around for so very long, far longer than humans have even existed. Canyons and turtles teach me a sense of perspective on my own life, and humanity in general. How small my daily concerns can be. I have the same experience back home in the ancient rainforests of the Northwest or watching the vast and mysterious ocean, that primordial liquid where things and places first emerged. I call it the holy indifference of nature. All of a sudden my own concerns and “to do” lists slip away in their insignificance.
Part of what makes wilderness so powerful is precisely this indifference to us, to the small concerns that envelop our worlds and our thoughts. How refreshing to be reminded that there are places and things that have lived long before us, and despite our ecological destruction, will live long after we are gone. And to remind us of how important our conservation efforts are, imagine being responsible for the final destruction of creatures who have thrived since almost the beginning of time? Creation goes on without our projects and lists of things to do, indifferent to the battles we fight and the love we make.
What consciousness lies in these things? What ancient wisdom is there present? What can we learn from this wisdom and the holy indifference of ancient and awesome places?
-Christine Valters Paintner