on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Tragedies of the Landscape Commons

The risk to the welfare of shared natural landscapes

Guy Tal

Professional photographic artist, author and speaker working primarily in the Western US. Website



A society is defined not only by what it creates, but by what it refuses to destroy.-John Sawhill

Lifelong insomnia has been both a blessing and a curse for me, and like so many other things its blessings have always seemed more profound when I’m out in the wild. It is 1am as I write these words, on a pleasant moonless night. I’m in my campsite sitting in a comfortable folding chair looking into the night sky. The vast desert around me is silent and still. No artificial light is visible as far as I can see, save for my little head torch—a necessary evil for writing which I hope to extinguish soon, so I can return to my nightly meditation. To the south, the constellation Scorpius is now fully visible. Two adjacent dots of light catch my eye: the stars Shaula and Lesath, making up the stinger of the celestial scorpion (or at least some photons ejected from them several hundred years ago). My dog lies at my feet, waking every few minutes to check on my condition (or on the condition of possible treats I might have for her). In the previous hours, I saw three meteors, one sporting an impressively long tail; two satellites; one owl flying silently, and the movements of two unidentified animals too far to see clearly.

To the south, the constellation Scorpius is now fully visible. Two adjacent dots of light catch my eye: the stars Shaula and Lesath, making up the stinger of the celestial scorpion

It saddens me to think that for so many people, experiences like these are no longer possible. Many may live an entire lifetime never having felt the peace of spending a quiet night alone under a canopy of stars, far away from the lights and cacophony of human hives. Many have become so detached from such primal experience as to not even know their power or to consider them worthy, and some may even be afraid of them. In recent years, even here in this great desert, more and more places I used to love not only for their beauty but also for such things as their intact communities of life, their silence, their clear skies, and the chance they offer to spend time in silent contemplation for days on end, no longer afford such experiences. Some of these places have been damaged or destroyed by increased visitation, some can no longer be experienced in solitude, and some have been “developed,” by which I mean that their wild character, their complex ecosystems, their mystery, their natural soundscapes, and their capacity to serve as refuges from the ills and bustle of humanity, have been willingly sacrificed to make them easier to access and more alluring to casual visitors.



This is a premium article and requires a paid subscription to access. Please take a look at the subscribe page for more information on prices.

On Landscape is part of Landscape Media Limited , a company registered in England and Wales . Registered Number: 07120795. Registered Office: 1, Clarke Hall Farm, Aberford Road, WF1 4AL