Fire and Grit: Read

10 Vision Statements

The following are excerpts from statements sent to us by Fire & Grit conference attendees.
These were placed alongside other statements on the conference website.


(Click to Download the 1999 Event Booklet)

Let us Piece Together our Visions

We are fighting many old and many new battles as we approach the second millennium. We struggle to open the eyes. Of millions to the values we embrace and vision we hold, such as preserving the family farm and preserving the grizzly, removing toxic hazards from neighborhoods and obtaining environmental quality in the inner city.

I hope the environmental movement realized its potential to guide the country forward. To succeed, I feel “we” must piece together our visions and create a mural for all people to see. This picture will illustrate how we may live in a good life without deciding for future generations what they will see and breathe and marvel, without deeding to future generations a planet that is a sickly remnant of a once splendid garden.

We travel a long road. To continue, we must walk together even as we walk different paths. And, as we move forward, we must share our vision with the people watching us and inspire them, young and old, to join us. We must move ahead together or we may never realize our potential let alone our vision.

Peter Gibbs
Watertown, NY

Be the Change

“The Best Way to Combat Evil,” suggest the classic Taoist text, the I Ching, is to make energetic progress in the good.”

By battling against the evil foisted upon the inhabitants of the globe by the proponents of humanity’s dominant paradigm, “environmentalism” is a reactionary movement. In the next millennium, environmentalists will divert some energy towards creating an alternative existence for the inhabitants of the planet. We’ll spend less time fighting bad plans and more in nurturing our visions of a planet comprised of healthy, sustainable communities whose residents are challenged, respected, appreciated, and cherished. We’ll grow more organic gardens, and buy less of everything. We’ll know our neighbors, and care less about the exploits of overpaid “entertainers” with less talent than local street-corner musicians. We’ll find meaningful, honest word for those how now toil in obscurity and trade in the destruction of ours and other species.

Let’s start with ourselves, examining, with love, the ways in which we can disengage from the all-too-pervasive deconstruction of the health of the planet’s systems. And let’s not be afraid to share our dreams. As Gandhi once said: “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”

Rick Stern, Executive Director
Missoula Urban Demonstration Project
Missoula, Montana

Hag in Millennial Woods

How many nights
have I laid awake
praying to be changed
to the hero

wanting the virgin to appear
in the grove,

aching for the mantle to fall:
warrior, poet, lover? Enough!

Now I will take the mountain path
where the dogwood already blooms,

where waters spring from rock
like offerings,

where other have gone
before me.

This is no small planet, boys,
that you claim to have conquered,

that’s yours to be saved, to be changed,
to be made to appear in a vision.

From the deep earthen bowels
to the high rock cliff

I am going out
on the ledge of the world.

The Shawlee says: Step off the to side.
You’re right in me way!

Elizabeth Ready
Addison County Community Trust
Middlebury, Vermont


The possibility of which I dream is that humanity will become fascinated with land in a reverent way. And that this love will soon come to be characterized by a willingness to learn from the old ways, a sense of intelligent reality, the courage to really listen to each other, and a respect for the building blocks of our world—soil, air, water.

I dream of a time to come in which we will remember these 5.9 billion other subtly unique vision interpreting the world. And that we are only piece of a whole system. Since we cannot readily assume others’ perspectives and because we cannot all take out our eyes and pass them back and forth, we will open up to what others are, to their visions. Instead of self-righteously seeing, we will consider and listen to each other.

I dream of a time to come when people will ponder the land as a character in their life stories. “Where are you from?” will elicit the same depth of response as “What do you believe in?” and will have an equal amount of draw. Considering the planet will be an instinctive response. I can see each of us taking a deep modest breath and collectively realizing the extraordinary and dynamic transformation we can affect if we listen to each other’s, and the earth’s, perspectives. It is not far.

Michelle Pulich
George West, Texas.

The Horse is a Weapon

Six thousand years ago, man tried to tame zebras and other equines, but was the nature of the horses that allowed them to become trustworthy mounts, pets, and partners. Archeological theory suggests that the transition from a loose association between humans and horses to captive breeding and stock raising occurred on the fringes of ancient society.

In increasingly desolate areas, hunting and gathering gave way to desperate agriculture. Dwindling resources drove herds out to those same fringes. Hungry horses lead to greenest grain field and ultimately domesticated themselves. As horses drew nearer, their usage by humans shifted from a meal to a mount. Animals become domesticated because their submissive behavior educes human domination. In a classic symbiotic dance of the care-seeker and the care-giver, human and horses satisfied each together, like iron and fire.

The horse’s instinctive inclination toward bonding was reinforced by a mutual trust, or at least, respect. Exploitation of the horse in labor and war was, perhaps inevitable. But it’s doubtful that the horse anticipated fighting man’s battles, leading his chariots, or wearing his armor. Being led into battle was not written into the original contract, and now, centuries later, each generation of horses again must be broken.

Renata Golden
Houston, TX

Sweet Wilderness

My conservation experience suggests that the best wildland defenders are those firmly entrenched in sweet wilderness, the Earth’s basic environment and the baseline against which we measure success of failure of civilization.

Those who know wild hidden alcoves and unknown basins will not easily surrender them. And beyond the feckless glare of today’s microchip nightmare, out yonder ‘neath the starts and sun (where children used before teevee and video games), is the real world, the one that develops within us the stamina and the empathy to carry on in the dim glare of courtrooms and congressional chambers. As Cactus Ed Abbey once suggested, exploring the wilds enables us to outlast the despoilers so that we’ll “live to piss on their graves.”

Of course, I can’t prove any of this. And I admit that my thesis is neither original nor objective. There is no empirical proof that conservationists who frequent the wilds are more effective than those who don’t.

But know this: wildland exploration makes us happier and healthier. Wilderness is a great defense against the insanity of today’s pop culture, pop media, pop-gun politics, and the population explosion. Happiness is the big outside.

So please, let’s encourage each other—better yet, let’s require each other—to periodically get off the machine and hike or limp or crawl through a roadless area. Sit on a rock and watch the clouds float by. Float a wild river; paddle a clear glassy lake. I guarantee we’ll save more wilderness, including that which lies ahead.

No proof, I know. Pure subjectivity, yes. But John Muir and Bob Marshall knew this truth. So did old Aldo, Henry David, Rachel Carson, Marjory Stoneham Douglas. As did Cactus Ed. I sure wouldn’t argue with the wisdom of these memorable giants.

So periodically turn off the computer, get out, get wild, and feel no guilt. Feel nothing but the sweet caress of a wild wind in a wild land.

Howie Wolke
Big Wild Adventures
Conner, MT

Green Pope 

Be fruitful but don’t multiply, he said,
hand upraised in blessing.
We’ve really had quite enough of that, you know.
Don’t want to preside over a human barnyard,
a horde of primate locusts
buzzing too loud to think anymore.
Creation is instant and eternal,
now we realize—what a lovely paradox!
Responsibility is ours, we’re in the driver’s seat, so—
Get out and walk, see how Earth feels.

Paul Spitzer
Trappe, Maryland

Welcome to the “Grassroots Revolution”

We all hear them, the catch phrase that help us to remember and empower us to understand our future environmental work. “Constituency building” is another mantra that is and will become even more important for grassroots efforts. These phrases may not be common to all groups or individuals, but their meaning is deeply engrained in the work we all do.

Our work, in turn, needs to create an awareness of and continue to foster positive human/nature relationships with the public, the youth, and folks of all walks of life. Environmental education, for example, needs to be brought down to the community level and integrated into the existing culture. Only through direct experience will citizens have the best opportunity to learn about and become active in the environmental world. We all take different approaches: writing, lobbying, educating, and even suspending ourselves from the Golden Gate Bridge. We do our work in different ways yet we all share common thoughts and passions. This knowledge, these ideas and passions, must be filtered down to our everyday experiences so we can better understand current environmental situations. The change will happen if we establish the roots and allow the grass to grow.

Todd Covert, Director of Education and Outreach
Mississippi Audubon Society
Holly Springs, Mississippi


Some North Americans spell environmentalism with a capital “M.” Our future as citizens of the Americas and in the web of life depends on our ability to create an inviting pathway that doesn’t leave anyone, any living thing, wandering off along the road to extinction. It is time for us environMentalists to cast aside our superiority complex, our sanctimoniousness. It is time to eliminate the ego-driven negativity, the concept of the enemy, our ignorance, confusion and fear. Let’s have fun guaranteeing sufficiency for all, forever, within the means of nature. The designosaurs may have caused temporary blind spots with their prettied-up time-bombs, but collaboratively our vision is being reviewed. The window of opportunity is open, and yes, our love and creativity are helping this opening be perceived, understood and navigated. Let’s communicate the joys or resourcefulness and cyclicality, expedite progress by sharing ideas and knowledge, generate energy by inspiring others, and celebrate nature as we promote the positive actions of today and the sustainable visions of tomorrow.

Wendy E. Brawer, Director
Green Map System
New York, New York

At the Divide

Where I live, in the Pacific Northwest, there are two kinds of opponents to the environmental movement: the large extraction industries and their cohorts who are responsible for pollution or other forms of environmental degradation, and then there are the small town, rural, working class people who feel the impacts of endangered species listing and the gradual decline of the environment’s ability to provide a livelihood. This second group of people think that environmentalists don’t care about poor people. That’s where the divide is.

Sometimes the working-class people are right because some of us are elitists, better educated, wealthier, enjoying more privileges from our first moment of breath, and wondering what these millworks, fishermen, miners and so on are belly-aching about. On their side I think the working people who do the day labor for the mining companies, the timber outfits, the factory trawlers, feel that our compassions for animals and trees, tiny fish and insects is misplaced, when there is so much human suffering and so much day-in day-out hardship. That’s the divide that needs to be closed. That’s the wound that needs to be healed. That’s the solidarity that needs to be found.

Victoria Stoppiello
Stoppiello Architects.
Iiwaco, WA

A Great Convergence

I see before us a great convergence: environmentalists will join with advocates for economic parity, social justice, moral responsibility, and spiritual awakening in a movement on behalf of all of life. This convergence will integrate a diversity of experiences and ideas, hopes and concerns, means and contributions. Many will continue to work within their familiar areas, but with a deeper and broader perspective, and with the growing empowerment that arises when those with particular interests discover a common understanding and purpose.

This convergence is being generated from within the matrix of life. It is an organic response to an evolutionary moment, when we humans are beginning to recognize the planetary dimension of our existence. We are support in this recognition by all other life forms who have previously made this connection. Our responsibility is to become conscious of what is required of us—individually and collectively—to participate in this unfolding destiny, to enter into a transformative process where here fulfill the larger nature of our being and, like the rest of life, ennoble our place in Creation.

Barbara Barr
Durham, NC

We Need the Will

In every local jurisdiction, working groups of innovators, educators, artists, grassroots organizations, and local, state, and federal officials will provide the concerted energy needed to create new rules in place of those that presently impede sound local action. National leaders in government, education and the arts will encourage these local action groups to identify, recognize, and preserve the national infrastructure of our lives as the basis for our personal and collective well-being, as the inspiration for economic strategies, the aesthetic and functional basis for human existence. The tools needed to do that exist. The leaders in thinking exist. What is needed is only the will to create, inform, and recognize participatory democratic action.

Anne Pearson
Alliance for Sustainable Communities
Edgewater, MD

Locate It (Literally)

I agree with Mark Dowie’s speculative eighth tenant of the future environmental imagination in his book Losing Ground: “A land ethic will be taught in nursery school.” With each increase in human population the land ethic becomes an ever more crucial skill. Organized religion generally will take up the land ethic, and we will somehow re-animate the natural world. We will realize that the late Mollie Beattie was right: if it doesn’t make ecological sense it isn’t economic. The Secretary of the Interior will become a shaman—negotiating proper balance between humans and the more-than-human world. We will discover that with Walden a de-mythologizing Henry David Thoreau was writing American scripture, and that his essays “Walking” (“…In Wildness is the preservation of the world.”) and “Resistance to Civil Government” are companion pieces about the authentic self and the social self, respectively. We don’t preserve wildness; it preserves the Kosmos, the World, Beauty, Order, us. We’ll stop giving Information amphetamines, slow it down, locate it (literally), make it communal knowledge, and turn it into Earth wisdom. We’ll go loco for locus, be wild about place, link urban wildness with designated wilderness. Somehow…

Edward Zahniser, Editor
National Park Service Publications
Harper’s Ferry, W. Virginia

Adult Dark

The rule was you had to come in when it was dark. “But it wasn’t dark. It was adult dark. When you sit inside all day yak yakking about somebody’s gallbladder, you can’t see NOTHING.” So goes my favorite Greg Brown song about summer evenings on his grandmother’s farm. The people I know that are most concerned about “the environment” are tired. Others are busy buying land before it’s “ruined” and send their children away to school. They sit inside all day wondering why their community is anemic, fragmented, passive.

Culture is the mental technology that allows a people to survive. Our culture seems bent on heading us in the opposite direction. But the way we’re trying to find our way out is the we way we got in: grasping, fighting, straining, Einstein said that the problem cannot be solved at the same levels of thinking that created it. I say: “it’s not the dark. It’s adult dark.” You can’t speak about beauty in an ugly way nor can we act for what we love in a hopeless way. And maybe we can’t save the earth—we can only be the earth the best we can.

Susie Caldwell
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Fourteen-year-old Lia Stevenson is my vision

We have spoken only a few times, but in her, and in other young people like her, I can see the emergence of a responsible, lasting environmental conscience. Eager to rake sweet gum balls, pull invasive honeysuckle, or drag broken branches, Lia arrived at the founding meeting of the Historic St. Mary’s City trail user’s group ready to work. In subsequent encounters, I learned that Lia had convinced her mother to switch from plastic to more efficiently recyclable glass bottles and that she loves hands-on learning activities in her high school earth science class.

Twenty years ago, those classes were rare.

Today there are ecology classes at all levels of elementary and secondary school and strong environmental studies programs on campuses with college students volunteering in elementary schools to take young Lia’s out tracking barn owls. I know. I have seen the wonder in their faces. Wonder plus knowledge create commitment and change

Forty years ago, there was only an occasional Sand County Almanac or Silent Spring.

Today there are world environmental summits.

Where in forty years, will you take us Lia?

…I have hope that you will.

Katherine R. Chandler
St. Mary’s College of Maryland
St. Mary’s City, MD.