Laurel Nakanishi in Orion:
I remember standing in a forest of tamarack in early spring, near Siyeh Glacier in western Montana. High in the branches, clutches of needles sprouted the color of parakeets. The grove was old, so old that the trees grew giant and mossy. They had lived in this valley for over 150 years. I leaned against a stump where Allie sat. No one was looking at my body or at Allie’s body. No one was wondering what we were doing holding hands, our fingers interlaced. There was no need for words like lesbian or queer or bisexual. There was no need for any label at all. Siyeh Glacier is on land that’s thought of as wild: a place in which traces of human civilization are hard to find. The glacier itself once covered more than fifty acres, and it’s been frozen for millennia. But when we finally crested the pass and looped around to the north side of the mountain, we found only a field of dirty snow, dripping into a little stream. Climate change had melted the ice that had been here for thousands of years. It was a reminder that, while we felt free on that mountain, there can be no complete escape from where we come from. Not even in wilderness, not even with Allie.
Like our carbon pollution, we bring parts of our culture everywhere we go. Matthew Shepard, Gwen Araujo, the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida—all the stories I hear about queer people are violent and sad. And while I know that there are many queer families living happily in communities around the country, I find that, more often, I carry the violence with me—as fear, as self-hate, as distrust. I carry it even to the tops of melted glaciers. Maybe that is what the wilderness has taught me, continues to teach me: that while the violent and polluting parts of our culture are inescapable, they don’t define me. We are all part of a grander ecosystem, an interconnected natural world that is larger than our civilization and its discontents. We are both bigger and smaller than the identities that we create for ourselves, and when we want to get distance from them, we can go out into those areas we call wilderness and find ourselves, once again, as human animals.