It may be gone by the time you read this, but a compelling historic photograph was still posted on Obamawhitehouse.gov in mid-January: 11-year-old Barack Obama, his face turned from the camera, standing with his grandmother at a scenic overlook in Yellowstone National Park.
Below the picture, Obama writes: “I still remember traveling up to Yellowstone National Park, coming over a hill, and suddenly seeing just hundreds of deer and bison for the very first time. That new scenery gave me a sense of just how immense, how diverse, and how important the vast array of wildlife is to understanding and appreciating the world and our place in it.”
Many of us, like our 44th president, vividly remember our earliest encounters with the natural world — maybe on a family trip to a national park or the ocean, or, as in my case, as a young boy in suburbia, slipping into a sliver of woods after school to experience an untamed landscape and meet the creatures that inhabit it.
Such seemingly small encounters have a large impact on our brains and our well-being, as Florence Williams lays out persuasively in her new book, The Nature Fix. They are a welcome antidote to what she calls the “mass generational amnesia enabled by urbanization and digital creep” that humanity is now experiencing across the globe.
Too many of us have become isolated from the natural world, either by circumstance or choice, but as Williams’ cover story shows, it’s not too late to re-connect. Describing a trip down Idaho’s tempestuous Salmon River by female U.S. veterans suffering from post-war trauma, she writes, “These trips can rearrange our very core, catalyzing our hopes and dreams, filling us with awe and human connection and offering a reassurance of our place in the universe.”
I can’t help but think that our 45th president, Donald J. Trump, could use a strong dose of the wild in his life. His habitat seems to be the concrete jungle of the city. In his quest for popularity and business success, he’s likely never taken time to dunk his head in a cold mountain stream, or stretch out in the grass and look up at the stars in wonder.
Maybe, as president, he’ll finally get the chance. Obama was reportedly deeply moved by seeing Alaska, the Grand Canyon and Yosemite; they gave him perspective, and galvanized his impressive conservation policies in the West and beyond. While the new administration’s first days show only a total disregard for the environment, I still hold out the slim hope that Trump will at some point get out of the city and experience some of his country’s wild places. Go hunting with your sons in Montana, President Trump, float down the Colorado River with your new secretary of Interior. We need you healthy and balanced, and quickly.