We asked Jake Sigg, the popular and opinionated editor of Nature News, what originally inspired him to become such a passionate advocate for the environment. Here’s what he told us….
Back in the spring of 1966, I went on a Sierra Club backpacking trip down the Escalante River, a tributary of the Colorado. Of all the events in my life, I can’t think of anything having such a strong impact. Deeply incised canyons carved into pink salmon sandstone meandering around in no direction at all, the stream cutting and forming alcoves, sometimes containing seeps, where delicate ferns, scarlet monkeyflowers and columbine would flourish; harshness combined with extreme delicacy and fragility.
Every day of the trip the canyons became deeper, grander, more charming. It is called the Escalante RIVER but except for occasional floods following a heavy rainstorm it was 2-3 inches deep. Some of us took off our hiking boots and padded happily in the stream, every bend revealing new delights and surprises. We were deeply entranced. On the sixth day we turned a bend … and there was Lake Powell, dying trees and all, the result of rising waters filling in that unique and priceless canyon behind the new Glen Canyon Dam. I went numb.
Why was I taken by surprise? I knew beforehand that that’s how the trip would end. But so powerful was the canyon’s spell that I believed it would go on forever. I felt as if I had been hit on the head with a lead pipe.
So that trip was my epiphany, and it changed my life. The epiphany was deepened when I followed this up with a two-week rafting trip through the Grand Canyon, which was under threat of two proposed dams at the time. I wrote a lot of letters over the next two years and urged others to avert this catastrophe. We won the Grand Canyon battle, and I went on to many other battles since.
The earth has many powerful places, but none is closer to my heart than the Utah/Arizona canyon country. It was this trip that woke me up to what is happening to the land and the forces that are destroying it, forces that have become stronger in the 47 years since.
Your question why I became a passionate environmentalist should be turned around. How can you not be passionate? Don’t you care?