By Jim Durrett, President of Buckhead Coalition and Executive Director of Buckhead Community Improvement District
Toward the end of 1987 I came home to Atlanta to begin my post-graduate-school career. I received my Professional Geologist license and worked for almost 10 years while doing volunteer work for the Georgia Conservancy and eventually joining the board of trustees of that esteemed environmental nonprofit. Over the following three decades my career, volunteer work and considerable time spent in the Teton region of “Wydaho” have imbued me with a reverence for nature and understanding of the damage that has been done to the natural systems we depend upon for our very survival.
My wife and I have recently returned from our latest visit to our special place in Teton Valley where we regularly go for wonder and restoration. The connection to nature is powerful, one that inspires awe and reminds us that we are truly part of something much bigger than ourselves.
When you live in a yurt that depends upon firewood that you have to cut and gather from the forest to provide warmth in the mornings and which allows the weather to be much closer to you than it seems to be back home in your brick-and-mortar residence, you recalibrate your relationship with nature.
As you also endure smoke from distant western wildfires, heat of a greater magnitude than my 20-year-old self experienced and dry creek beds and low river flows, you worry about whether we have what it takes to come together and modify our behaviors to cut atmospheric carbon.
In “Sacred Nature,” Karen Armstrong writes that not only do we need to learn how to act differently, “but also how to think differently about the natural world. We need to recover the veneration of nature that human beings carefully cultivated for millennia…. We should consciously develop this remnant of our primordial link to nature in our struggle to save the planet. It is essential not only to our wellbeing, but to our humanity.”
As I write this, I am recovering from a case of COVID I picked up at a wedding we attended in Salt Lake City on our way home from Teton Valley. I was to be the speaker this evening at the annual Visionary Dinner of the Sandy Springs Conservancy. I had to back out. My remarks would have been along these lines. (George Dusenbury of the Trust for Public Land was very gracious to agree to step in as a more than adequate substitute.)
I believe that the pursuit of parks and trails as a significant element in the transformation of our urban environment is an imperative. It will help us to “recover the veneration of nature” required to help us think and act differently, and it should be immune to partisan divides and give us something important to work on together, and by so doing, bring us closer together. Several Buckhead projects are helping to restore a sense of nature in the city. Our partner Livable Buckhead has led the charge to build more than two miles of PATH400 and consistently hears comments from people who enjoy the escape into nature that it provides. The HUB404 Conservancy is working with us to realize an ambitious vision to build a nine-acre park atop GA 400. And even smaller parks like Charlie Loudermilk Park, which the Buckhead Community Improvement District renovated, add a touch of nature to the cityscape. It’s important work, and I’m grateful for everyone working with us to achieve the transformation we seek.