I was heartened to read Rebecca Lerch’s letter to the editor last week concerning the upcoming ski hill. I admire her purity of intent, and her bravery and eloquence in expressing it. My husband and I moved to Valemount a scant three years ago, and as a relative newcomer I’ve often felt that it’s not my place to give my opinion on such matters as the VGD, so I thank Ms. Lerch for doing it for me: she is far less timid than I. I suspect that Ms. Lerch might be criticised for her youthful idealism, so I am writing this to give her moral support. I’m middle-aged and horribly jaded but still think that all of her points are salient.
It is very true: one cannot eat money. However, a person can starve from a lack of meaning in life, and I think that this, at its core, is what the VGD will provide for many. Meaning is a very basic human need, and therein lies a possibly insurmountable problem. Far beyond the ostensible aims of improving the local economy, making names for certain people, “sharing” a pristine wilderness area, or putting Valemount “on the map”, the acts of planning the resort, building the resort, maintaining the resort, or visiting the resort and its peripheries will at least temporarily fill voids of meaning in many peoples’ lives for years to come, in the forms of labour, recognition, recreation or cash income. (Or will it? It is human nature never to be satisfied). We cannot begrudge people their sources of meaning, but in this case there may be a terrible price to pay: disastrous for the extraordinary lifestyle that we already enjoy, damaging to a small community that has found its own social ecology, and especially destructive to the nearby environment which we assume is ours to parcel out and use.
In their unquenchable thirst for meaning, some folks learn to whittle. Others have kids. Many feverishly accrue money and objects, thinking that those will fill the vacuum, and still others decide to claim vast swaths of raw wilderness as their own, and to commodify it: dumb it down, make it safe and easy to consume, and sell it on, all of which ironically destroys the very essence of what they are trying to capture and market. Ms. Lerch is right: there are plenty of other places which have already been constructively wrecked, “improved” beyond redemption, and where cashed-up holidaymakers can frolic. However, her challengers may also have a point: concentrating the destruction (and I do fear that it’s now inevitable) in one place may take the burden of increasing human ingress off other less glamorous, but equally important, areas. This may be the only non-fiscal advantage of a venture which I think is far from an unmitigated good.
Would that people might wake up and appreciate what they already have, and to know that what they have is enough. That they might twig to the notion that wilderness is its own entity, having value in, of and to itself, far beyond what it might mean just to us or our offspring. That they might stop trying to fix things that really aren’t broken, thereby breaking them utterly. That they could spend a bit more time quietly and honestly questioning their own deepest motives and the impacts that their expression may have on the world, and to adjust their grasps accordingly. I personally don’t think that they will; our species’ track record for restraint and circumspection is not good. I hope, however, that Rebecca’s energy and passion, and that of her generation, might somehow turn that tide.