The Island Within
As he stands overlooking a large clearcut, Nelson writes... "The decaying stump is now a witness stand, where I pass judgment on myself. I hold few convictions so deeply as my belief that a profound transgression was committed here, by devastating an entire forest rather than taking from it selectively and in moderation. Yet whatever judgment I might make against those who cut it down I must also make against myself. I belong to the same nation, speak the same language, vote in the same elections, share many of the same values, avail myself of the same technology, and owe much of my existence to the same vast system of global exchange. There is no refuge in blaming only the loggers or their industry or the government that consigned this forest to them. The entire society – one in which I take active membership – holds responsibility for laying this valley bare.
The most I can do is strive toward a separate kind of conscience, listen to an older and more tested wisdom, participate minimally in a system that debases its own sustaining environment, work toward a different future, and hope that someday all will be pardoned."
As Nelson ponders why he is on his island, he writes... "Sparsely trained in the natural sciences, caught between two deeply different ways of seeing the world, and guided by nothing more than a love and fascination for the out-of-doors –- what can I really hope to learn by coming here?
I lie back against the cushion of grass to think it all through again. And this time, perhaps because I've finally kept at it long enough, the answer comes with surprising clarity: I haven't intended to carry on research as a naturalist or ecologist, nor to gather scientific observations of any animals or plants that live here. My purpose, which has emerged gradually and of its own accord, is to understand myself in relationship to a natural community of which I am, in some undefinable way, a part. I've come seeking a better sense of how I fit into this place, not only as a visitor and watcher, but as a participant. From the beginning I've had a nebulous idea of "studying" the island or of exploring a world that seemed external to myself. But the exploration has turned inward, and I have slowly recognized that I am not an outsider here. Like every other human in every other place, I am an inhabitant, a member of the community largely defined, an organism who differs very little from the others around me. The island is not just a place to pleasure my senses –- it is my home, my ecological niche, my life broadly defined."