Since the industrial revolution, we have distanced ourselves considerably from the natural world. I am part of a generation whose lives are surrounded by concrete and dictated by Wi-Fi connection. by: VERN UYETAKE - Celeste Nahas

Is it really a surprise if we’ve forgotten what a flower looks like? A pond so clear one’s reflection is unwavering? A midnight sky dense with stars?

When I was 6 or 7, we packed up our white truck for spring break and took a trip to Joshua Tree National Park. I remember sitting between my parents atop the console in the front seat as we drifted down the desert highway. I remember the warm air that billowed from the sky and my mom pointing to a map. Where I had expected whitewashed skulls and cowboy boots I found instead only the illumination from dusty headlights and a pristine calmness. Dead insects littered the taillights; a jackrabbit bounded across the coming night.

Now, just a few short weeks from spring break, I’m looking forward to spending time outdoors — perhaps a return to Joshua Tree. But with slashed funding for national parks due to the sequester, I’m beginning to wonder how much longer my favorite places will be left. Sanctuaries of verdant growth and unquieted wilderness no longer exist save where we allow them to, and even then we encroach. Plants and animals rely on us to back their livelihoods with protective measures. But in spite of ourselves, we are losing our connection to the natural world.

Congress plans to cut about $80 million in National Park Service funding nationwide, which means an across-the-board 5 percent cut.

What does this look like for spring break travelers? In the Great Smoky Mountains, campgrounds are already scheduled to close. At Gettysburg, educational programs will be greatly reduced and some 2,400 children from local towns will miss the important living history opportunities. Visitor centers will be shut down, trash bins will be emptied less frequently, roads in Northwest parks will remain unplowed and trails will be blocked.

To the average citizen this might not matter. We don’t need these parks. We can stay inside our paved paradise, protected by walls and indoor bathrooms. We can look at the ocean on our iPads. We can use a new filter on Instagram to dress up a picture of our backyard and then pretend we’re in the backcountry. The truly funny thing is that the thing we do with all our gadgets and screens — which we treat as far more valuable than the world around us — is try to emulate it.

But there really is no substitute. Imagine for a moment your child or grandchild at age 6. They are sitting in the front seat feeling that palpable summer air swoosh around their ears. It is spring break and they are experiencing the desert for the first time. There beneath blue-black sky, flanked on both sides by compacted sand and dry saguaros — they feel strangely at home. Perhaps they get out of the car to explore. Prehistoric-looking ferns and rare, endangered wildflowers of every type stretch as far as the eye can see. Old, bent, black trees spring up around them from the sand, creating the feel of a fairy tale forest. Maybe they slip on the sand but they gather themselves up and smile.

Our national heritage is for young children to hear the charge of thundering rivers, see red-tailed hawks on power lines, bald eagles soaring and blue herons waiting. It is our heritage. The federal government should and must protect this.

Poet Walt Whitman wrote: “The secret of making the best persons ... is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.”

It is up to my generation to make sure our future children will still have wild places. For without the intervention of dedicated people, pristine places might easily become just another strip mall.

For when all our forests are logged and the once-green hills scream like hollow carcasses of what used to be — will we really find sanctity in our cellphones? Are we better off mapping pieces of metal and plastic than the constellations? Should we bring our laptops into our tents, or is a night under the stars better without an anchor?

Celeste Nahas is a senior at Lakeridge High School. She writes a monthly column in the Lake Oswego Review. To contact her, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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