Stewardship can be common ground for all in the new year

I think it is fair to say 2016 slogged its way to the finish line. Midnight would be greeted with all of the customary pomp, and pageantry, much of it excessively overdone as usual. But 12:02 a.m. would not feel that much different, and neither will the next morning, or the one after that.

We pop the champagne corks, release the confetti and engage those shrieking little paper horns in some celebratory ritual no one seems able to explain, or alter. We look back on the year that is closing, offer sometimes nonsensical toasts, then we move on.

I’ve never been one to spend a lot of time haranguing about the past. There have been successes and failures in the most recent 12 months, with victories and defeats, as well as losses and gains. That is the hopscotch game we call life. We can review and reflect, and certainly learn from much of what has transpired, but anything beyond that usually is an unnecessary expenditure of time and emotion.

The year 2016 certainly had its share of tumult, and several additional doses beyond its share. We should expect nothing less from 2017 since we live in a world with an excess of problems and a deficit of actionable ideas. We likely would get more done if there was some magical contraction across the ideological spectrum, tempering the extremes and drawing them slightly closer — not to a mushy middle ground where nothing gets done — but to such a place where we can at least see things from the opposing perspective.

Whether the topic is hunting, the use of our vast federal lands or the ground rules for healthy discussion of our environmental troubles, it would be best if we went forward minus the seemingly mandatory derogatory label-maker. Let’s just be simply the Creator’s people of the planet, and not allow ourselves to be sliced into endless categories by region, religion, race, education level and ethnicity like the victims of some kind of out of control demographic Dewey Decimal System.

We’ll get a lot more done as people, not factions or cults of philosophy, whether we are attacking the algal problems on Lake Erie, wildlife conflict issues or defining just where green energy should yield the right-of-way to thousands of migratory birds.

Despite the fact “tolerance” was one of the most overused, misused and manipulated words of the past year, I will run it up the flag pole one more time in an effort to remind the high priests and priestesses of tolerance the word is a superhighway cloverleaf that goes in all directions, not a path that dead ends at the point where you have expressed your beliefs, then shuttered your eyes and ears.

Can we also schedule a ceremonial burning of the “broad brush” for early in 2017? If this tactic of sweeping up a large collection of people and slapping a label on them is inappropriate in one instance, then it is inappropriate in all instances.

I also would like to see 2017 welcome an extension and an expansion of what started here as the whimsical daydreams of a disheartened grandpa. “No Device Day” came about via a frustration motivated fiat after seeing our two grandsons perfectly content to while away a gorgeous summer day inside grandma’s house, staring zombielike at the tiny screen of a Game Boy, with an empty swimming beach and a pond full of fish, an orchard lined with climbable trees and a regulation basketball court all standing vacant outside.

Although a patient man who grew up with eight sisters in a house with 1½ bathrooms, this was more than I could bear. I recalled the off-the-scale outdoors fun we had as kids when my brothers Sean and Seamas and I would escape outside after breakfast, then have to be herded back in at dark. We explored and fished, swung Tarzanlike from ropes hanging in the trees, caught crayfish and frogs, built forts and treehouses, rode bikes and skipped rocks, sometimes all before lunch. So in a fit of dictatorship, akin to the edicts of Mussolini or Mugabe, I declared the young duo would spend an entire day without devices of any kind. It was Prohibition 21st-century style, banning television, cell phones, Game Boy, Wii and Nintendo DS.

They hooted and howled and searched in vain for electronic torches and pitch forks, but they ultimately survived. They also discovered the outdoors could be just as fun, more unpredictable, and it required no batteries or a charger.

If we can have a Secretary’s Day, Sweetest Day and Festivus, then I think there is room on the calendar for No Device Day. No child will be left behind if they are encouraged, cajoled and possibly forced to spend time outdoors and explore the world around them.

This also is an appropriate time to commend and salute the many champions of the outdoors we have in our area for another year of tireless effort. They are bird lovers and duck hunters, river fishermen and river cleanup enthusiasts, boaters and water keepers, weed pullers and seed planters, biologists and citizen scientists, old-timers and newbies.

Their badge of commonality: They care. They care about our water and our wildlife, our rivers and our lakes, and conserving our precious habitat.

Godspeed and good health is my 2017 wish for those warriors who always do the work and often shun the limelight: Kim Kaufman, Capt. Dave Spangler, Sandy Bihn, Matt Anderson, Karen Mayfield, John Sinkovic, Allen Dunlap, Mark Shieldcastle, Jim Maples, Joe Roecklein, Corneilus Harris, Joyce Mease, Ross Robertson, John Hageman, Bob Barnhart, Rock Vetell, Capt. Paul Pacholski, Ralph Reinhart, Cheryl Zuelke, Reggie Strauss and Bob Pulhuj. And dozens more — far too many to mention — so if your name is not listed, know your efforts are still much appreciated.

As I walked along a trail near the lake recently and looked out over that magical and mythical mass of water, I again stood humbled by the natural world around us. I recalled that just 10,000 years ago, this place was buried by ice a mile thick, and some 350 million years ago, a vast, warm sea teeming with life covered this region. Change comes to the landscape, at a pace determined by forces much greater than we can comprehend. Meanwhile, we need to be good stewards of the place we occupy on this incredible chunk of rock floating through space, and truly enjoy the ride.


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