Oct 9, 2013, 12:05 PM, Posted by

Mike Painter

There are still places left where the prehistoric wisdom of our planet stands sentinel. I just returned from such a spot, a high elevation Sierra Nevada fortress of wildness and ancient Earth. Ironically, our own federal government has designated the region a wilderness. It's almost comical to me that right as we hiked into this area, bickering, partisan factions back east shut down the very government that presumes to preside here. In fact, until those folks sort out their problems, you can visit these wilderness areas without a federal permit. Heads up, however, if something happens to you during your permit-less visit; you are on your own. I like the sound of that, actually.

These places are vast and impervious to current events. Trust me; they do not care about human welfare, cultures, health, poverty, wealth, communities, cities, or governments. They just silently stand testament throughout the millennia to the true nature of our home.

We can visit, scamper over their surface, leave footprints, take some photos and admire the awesome, terrible beauty. We can even experience some hubris, as if we've cheated the gods simply by being there. Keep in mind, though, a quick turn in the weather from manageable to extreme can easily annihilate puny, trespassing humans. This beauty, it seems to me, has much more in common with space and distant moons than any bauble, form or landscape we might create. From that human perspective, this beauty could also seem like one, giant waste. I mean, why go to all the trouble? If this intense, intricately balanced, self-sustaining, almost frivolous beauty is not for our eyes, then who and what is it for anyway?

These wild strongholds seem invincible and separate from us, but of course they're not. Sadly, these immense, impregnable places are stuck right here with us on our unique planet. On the way up to the wilderness area, we skirted the recent devastating California Rim fire, witnessing thousands and thousands of square miles of mountain forest destruction. Sure, major forest fires happen; so do epic Rocky Mountain floods, multiple F5 Great Plains tornados (including the largest ever seen), Atlantic superstorms and freak snowstorms. Any one of those unusual events can happen, but don't kid yourself. While we may not be able to keep our government consistently open so it can issue us wilderness permits, we can without question unwittingly unleash forces that make the planet's ancient sentinels shudder.

So, do your work; live your lives. Innovate. Create astounding new technology. I'm certainly going to keep working in earnest with beloved colleagues to help improve the health of communities. But while we do all that, please, let's also listen carefully to the ancient wisdom of our home.  

Sustain. Balance. Connect. Protect. Show some humility. In any event, time left for us to change, I fear, grows short. In fact, understand this: if you, your company, your profession, your community, your nation are not part of the solution; no matter your intentions, you are part of the problem. 

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.