There is currently a debate raging in Minnesota about permanent funding for conservation. For the past several legislative sessions, lawmakers have tried to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to dedicate funding for clean water and land.
I support that.
Most people do, actually. The reason it’s never actually made it onto the ballot is because certain representatives insist that it include permanent funding for arts and culture: public broadcasting, theatre, museums, etc.
It has put me in a tight spot, because I’d like to see more funding both for our state’s natural and cultural resources. Ultimately though, I’ve come to feel that with the dire threats facing the environment from accelerating development, global warming and pollution, that we should pass the conservation funding immediately. Ideally, we could pass two pieces of legislation, one for the woods and one for the arts. But either way, I want to see the conservation funding bad enough that I’m willing to make the arts fight their own fight.
And it has seemed a little selfish of the pro-arts funding gang to hold up the conservation funding, which could almost assuredly pass otherwise.
Today, Dennis Anderson almost changed my mind. The long-time outdoors writer at the Minneapolis Star Tribune and an influential voice in the state’s hunting and fishing circles, wrote a vitriolic column condemning the “paintbrush and MPR crowd” for insisting on funding.
Minnesota is, after all — as others have cryptically noted — running out of wetlands.
I know that Anderson has his priorities. And they are priorities that I share. Leaving a legacy of unsoiled outdoor spaces is important to me. But there is no call for such hostility and name calling.
Normally, I would ignore this. I learned long ago that the best response to a bully is no response at all. But Anderson’s column actually got me thinking about a brief discussion that arose on this site last weekend in the comments on my “Stillness” post.
A fellow named Eric started things off by saying:
“…Its interesting that this stillness tends to reside in beautiful natural enviornments, maybe thats why I also seek them out.
To which my lovely wife Rosie responded:
“…it’s one of the conflicts i can’t resolve when people say they snowmobile or four-wheel to enjoy nature. those machines only shoot you from end of nature to the next…
Responding to both Eric and Rosie, I stumbled on some new thoughts of my own. I said:
i dont know why stillness tends to reside only in natural environments, but i think it does. i believe it can also reside in the works of humans: art, love, and maybe if i write it well enough, it can live in words? nonetheless, i will go forth into the woods as long as i’m able to, seeking that ephemeral stillness. i feel like i should quote some sigurd olson here, but i won’t. but i feel that undisturbed time in the woods is essential to the human spirit and soul. it is as important as art and loveâ€¦
I think it would be fun to explore moment we feel that same stillness we experience in the natural world when we’re on a bus, a plane, walking in NYC. I think we can carry it with us (or do we find some solace there too, maybe in the safety of crowds?).
I had been thinking about this discussion all week, and when I came across Anderson’s divisive column today, I realized how starkly I disagreed with what he wrote. For a long time, I have believed in the “spiritual necessity” of wilderness, to quote Sigurd Olson. I believe it is unique and valuable.
And in the “Stillness” discussion, I finally made my own connections between the value of wilderness and the value of such human creations as art or writing. There is something intangible in both the outdoors and in art that is essential to my life. It is something felt — deep inside — rather than seen.
I still don’t think trying to hitch the arts funding to the conservation funding is a good idea. If I thought it would pass as a united bill, I would be all for it. But it won’t, so I’m not.
Even so, there is no need for Anderson’s comments. It is just more of the counter-productive us vs. them, metro vs. outstate, hook-and-bullet vs. arts-and-theatre attitudes that have plagued this state, and the conservation movement as a whole, for decades. Goodness knows what irreparable damage has already been done by taking such stances.
His column to me seemed uninformed, as if he was living in a fantasy world where someone like me, who listens to public radio on his way to the trout stream, doesn’t exist, much less exist in any great number. Minnesota’s great love of the outdoors does not reside just in the hearts of hunters and fishermen, or in those who live outside the seven-county metro area.
Nonetheless, it has been useful for me to remind myself that the way I feel while standing before one of the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s Van Goghs is not much different than the way I feel while paddling my canoe down the St. Croix River.