Karla Sanders

Leaders of Today


leaders of today

Illustration for my Memoir of America series, #5 place portrait - Rocky Mountain National Park

Illustration for my Memoir of America series, #5 place portrait - Rocky Mountain National Park

The wilderness has a raw beauty that kills as quickly as she graces us with her bounty. I felt my fragility sitting atop Sundance Mountain in the Rocky Mountains; tears of an icy wind blurred my vision. I only wanted to get off that mountain. Yet this mountain is our lifeline. There is a rhythm in the way things live and die, a vibrant cycle we are a part of though our history has tried to deny it. The Rocky Mountains are the spine of North America, and today vast acres of the forests are dying there.

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The pine bark beetle has been reproducing at a record level due to rising temperatures that don’t kill off enough of their larvae in winter and the trees cannot fight them. Forests are our lungs, yet we continue to chain smoke our heads into the sand. Here I honor one who had his head in the mountains and spoke their truth, all the way to Capitol Hill. Enos Mills was born in poverty but along with others helped convince Woodrow Wilson to establish Rocky Mountain National Park. Thanks to his persevering speeches, storytelling, letters and guided hikes, over 265,000 acres are protected today.

Mills saw the consequences of unchecked development in the mountains and led with solutions. He was inspired by the great John Muir, and others followed in their footsteps, like Aldo Leopold who once said Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left”. These are the law makers we need in government, in our schools and heading the Department of Education. The people who care to think beyond war, fossil fuels, fake society and the driving force of it all - ego.

In our recent Independence Day, $2.5 million were taken from the national park service to help pay for the tanks of a military parade in Washington. The park service is already $12 billion in the hole, with much needed funds to support its 419 sites.

While the powers behind America thirst for tribalism and predation, my experiences with people in the parks revealed another narrative. There are Americans like Enos Mills, and people like him all over the world. It’s hard for our voices to be heard when money powers politics, but I’d like to believe if Mills could achieve what he did, so can we, even if the world is more complex today. And I get it, people like me sound like balloons of hot air saying much and doing little. I think this is what paralyzes us into apathy, the mentality of yeah yeah, the world is going to hell but what can I do?

So I’d counter that. I’m at the beginning of this journey too, and I’m finding out there’s a lot the simple person can do. Here’s a good place to begin, dig deeper and meet the modern day Enos Mills’s: