Lucian Spataro is the author of The Long Ride: The Record Setting Journey by Horse Across the American Landscape. The book is already the recipient of awards such as, the 2012 IPPY Outstanding Book of the Year Gold Award for the book “Most Likely to Save the Planet,” 2012 Benjamin Franklin Bronze Award for Autobiography/ Memoir and 2012 ForeWord Book of the Year Award Finalist in Environment, Nature and Travel Essays. Lucian continues to speak to civic, business and environmental groups and to students on sustainability.
On several occasions before the ride, I had a recurring dream. It was the year 2031 and l was now in my 70’s. In the dream, I found myself in a house that was very cold. Although the lights were on, the room felt dark, although I had enough light to read a book. Then, my grandson walked in. He seemed to enter the room through some type of vacuum transition chamber. It seemed as if each room was “purified” before someone could enter or exit.
My grandson had a magazine with him and he wanted to discuss an article with me. A look of concern–maybe anger–was on his face. I noticed that the magazine in his hands was TIME, and the article he was pointing to was titled, “We Lost the Ecosystem. How?”
The article took the reader through a chronology of environmental and economic decisions, both bad and good, spanning 80 years. It explained why these decisions were made–economic and political reasons that were fueled by a growing population and a throwaway society.
The article declared that in the 1980’s, the environment became a trendy issue and many celebrities became involved. People worked very hard to bring attention to the issue and several even walked across the United States. Others circulated petitions, organized sit-ins and participated in protest marches.
One person even rode a horse across America.
The article then gave a detailed account of all the symptoms of environmental disease that were apparent to everyone: acid rain, global deforestation, ozone depletion, and so on.
My grandson then looked at me, not smiling, and asked, “When all of this was going on, what were you doing?”
I replied: “I rode the horse.”
He walked over to the window and looked outside. Then, very slowly, he turned back to me and said: “Is that all? Is that it?”
At that point, I arose from my chair and walked to the window to look outside. There I saw a crow sitting in a dead tree. It was springtime, about 1:00 p.m., just after lunch.
And it was dark outside.
My interest in the environment had its roots in my youth. My parents introduced me to the world of nature when I was very young, and even as a third-grader I understood that the world was operating under a kind of master plan. I was not, however, aware that this plan rested on a naturally balanced ecosystem and we humans are a part of this ecosystem.
Today, when I look back on my youth, my memories are of my days in Latourette’s Forest, Essex Pond, and Dobson Hollow in southern Ohio. There were animals everywhere: deer, hawk, quail, largemouth bass, frogs, fireflies and turtles. I had the unique opportunity to gain an appreciation for the natural world through these sometimes aimless wanderings and explorations. I would spend many hours and sometimes days on my horses, Buck and Tim, or hiking with friends through the area.
My beagle, Skipper, accompanied me on many of these trips. Our favorite game was, “I hide, you seek.” I’d leave home and hike into the woods, sometimes several miles and try to disguise my trail. Then, I’d find a high vantage point–often a ridge–and watch my dog pick up my trail, following me through streams, over logs, from rock to rock and across wooden fences. I’d learned how to elude him by watching fox and rabbits as they were being trailed. (Rabbits always return in a complete circle home).
I also learned a lot about patience and persistence, both from my dog and from these forest animals and through these childhood experiences, I became educated, fascinated and appreciative of the natural world.
I sense that today, children and adults rarely take advantage of, or are exposed to, these kinds of opportunities, and because of this children today do not feel a connection to the natural world. We have grown away from nature, thanks in large part to technology, that double-edged sword, with its computers and video games substituting for the appeal many children once found in nature. Without the most basic exposure, we will miss the vital connection we have with natural systems.
We as a society have isolated ourselves within our technology, and no longer feel the real cold or the rain or heat. Few of us question how or where the food we eat is produced. How many of us even know how it gets to our grocers? We need to rediscover nature and the fascination it held for many of us in years past.
In 1989, I decided it was time to bring back this awareness to the rest of America–by riding across it by horse and talking along the way with people who became interested in the horses and the event and in turn, these issues.