Park Alert...

A Longing for the Past

December 20201

By Ranger Amy

Trees reflecting in smooth lake waterAs a rule, I try to live in the present moment. I love to go for walks to reset, recalibrate, and calm my mind. That’s why parks are great! They’re an open space that we can use to guide ourselves back to our present.

So why do I stop during my walks and imagine the world as it was 100, 200, 500, 800 years ago? Why do I keep trying to open windows into the natural history of what this land once looked like?

I didn’t have answers to that question until I stumbled upon this word:

Hiraeth – n. (Welsh) A spiritual longing for a home which maybe never was. Nostalgia for ancient places to which we cannot return. It is the echo of the lost places of our soul’s past and our grief for them. It is in the wind, and the rocks, and the waves. It is nowhere and it is everywhere.

Abundant wildlife

Raccon looking at cameraI love to imagine the abundance of animals before roads and railroads connected the land from sea to sea. The amount of life must have been massive, overwhelming, and reassuring. There were whole communities of raccoons and opossums that lived a stone’s throw away. They had to be more than pests or pelts, at a certain point. Weren’t they neighbors?

For a year I kept a roadkill journal in my car. The number of animals killed on the road was massive. One might think that I’d become numb to the number of dead animals on the road, but I became more aware and respectful. My journal didn’t make a difference in the amount of roadkill or contribute to science, but a change occurred in me.

The animals alongside the road, inside the park, in our neighborhoods and backyards have every right to live a full life. I felt a longing (on their behalf) for the way the world was when there were no roads. They could walk to and fro without fear of the four-wheeled killer.

Imagining the past

I love modern conveniences, and I don’t wish to go back “to a better time.” I don’t know what I’d do without a dentist or antibiotics.

Yet, I wish there was a way I could step back into the past and watch bison, elk, and pronghorn migrate across the land. Watch black bears rambling alongside the riverbed. Or stand among millions of monarch butterflies feeding in prairies of wildflowers. Imagine breathing the air before the American industrial revolution. How sweet and clean it must have been.

When I’m outdoors I imagine the hands (or paws) that touched the soil, rocks, and trees before I did. It feels as though those people and places are still there, beside me, in the wind, the rocks, and the waves.

The past is far away, but somehow, it’s still here with us. If not in some deep spiritual way, then at least in our imaginations.

Do you ever hear the echo of the past? Do you experience Hiraeth?