I didn’t choose this career field to become rich or famous.
There, I said it. Parents everywhere are already cringing. Yes, money is important. Trust me, as a student graduating in less than two short months, I understand this. We must make money to live, to support ourselves, and to eventually support our families. But the good news is that you can do all of that and follow your passion and dreams, too. In the competitive American society, we often focus on how much money we make to gauge our success. I argue that we should not be gauging success on how much money we make, but how much of a difference we make. We can easily live comfortably with less than a millionaire’s wealth and with exceedingly more happiness and true success in the end.
The students and professors, past and present, here at Warnell differ from any others on campus. We aspire not for wealth, fame, or self-promotion. We were led to this field of study because there is something about the nature of wild things that ignites a fire in our soul, brings us to life, and calls us to protect and defend these things. Aldo Leopold, a name that echoes through Warnell, once said, “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.” Warnellians are surely the ones who cannot. We feel it is our job to protect the wild things and teach others that they too should consider themselves “ones that cannot live without wild things”, because after all, could any of us? Is there any person that could live without what natural resources provide us? Bees and bats that pollinate food, soils that nourish crop growth, water that hydrates and makes up to 75% of our body mass, trees that shade and filter and provide us more just paper and lumber for homes; the human race could not continue to exist without clean air, clean water, and food, which, at the very minimum, is what the wild provides for us. Additionally, beyond just direct human need, the environment offers so much to the balance and success of our world, like a behind-the-scenes presentation of a larger production. While we are busy watching the movie of our every day lives, nature is making all of that possible. The environment is a complex system that keeps itself in check. If you take out just one part of this complicated equation (or add a foreign part), everything becomes unbalanced. Warnellians and other kindred spirits know all of this to be fundamentally true, but also recognize an even higher value of these resources beyond fundamental human need that awakens something in the human spirit. Consider how a sunny day with crisp air makes you feel, or how flowers in the spring delight you. These are simple every day examples compared to the feeling of walking alone in a forest in the morning, summiting a mountain after a hike, or seeing a cluster of red-cockaded woodpeckers in a longleaf pine stand untouched since the landfall of De Soto (I’m looking at you, Habitat Management).
The tragedy is that people only care about what they know and love, and today so many people have failed to develop a romance with the outdoors, becoming less connected to the wilderness everyday. We can do everything with a click of a button, a flip of a switch, and a swipe of a card. We never have to grow, gather, or hunt our own food out of necessity; to get what we need, we simply purchase it at a store and never get to know the middleman that is nature. Children play more indoors than outside, blinding them from teachings of nature that our grandparents had. We think we are more advanced than past generations, but the truth is that we are moving backwards and becoming ignorant in many regards. Our society and way of life is steadily moving further from nature, but that doesn’t mean you have to follow. What society places value on right now, is not necessarily where the greatest worth with lie in the end. As a Cree Indian Proverb warns us, “Only when the last tree has died, the last river been poisoned, and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.”
Here at Warnell (and in this field), my peers and I see the value, economically, environmentally, and spiritually of wild things and wild places. We will fight to protect what belongs to ALL of us, though others may not yet see its worth. We know that everything natural resources provide cannot be measured solely by a numerical value. We believe that a career choice is more than just the money that will be earned from it. We, like Aldo Leopold, are the ones who cannot live without wild things. We are the ones who didn’t choose a career field to become rich or famous, we chose a career field to make a difference.
And that is why we Warnell.