It’s no secret my family is pretty “outdoorsy,” and this time of year we spend our free time camping and hiking and enjoying the natural world. Most of our vacations involve at least some type of “ecotourism,” and much of our time at home is spent gardening.

We can’t claim to participate in any sort of heroic activism, but we care a lot about the environment and we’ve found plenty of small things we can do to live just a little bit “greener.” We switched to energy-efficient light bulbs, turn off electronics when they’re not in use, and we get our drinking water from the tap. We compost as much of our food waste as we can, not only to save landfill space but also to provide valuable fertilizer for our organic garden.

We’ve found most of the smaller changes almost effortless, although we do occasionally gross each other out. I’m a proponent of the water-saving “if it’s yellow let it mellow” school of thought, which my husband finds absolutely disgusting and a clear violation of our dog’s sacred right to drink from the toilet at will.

Scott likes to save water by waiting until I’m done with a nice hot bath and soaking in my leftover bath water which, by the time I’m done, has finally cooled from almost scalding to his wimpy idea of “just right.” Although it wouldn’t bother me at all to enjoy a hotel hot tub with a dozen strangers, something about the idea of sharing actual bathwater kind of grosses me out. It’s one thing to “stew in your own filth,” as Chandler Bing would put it, but someone else’s? Eww.

He just laughs each time I wrinkle my freshly scrubbed nose. Then he holds out his big, filthy, bruised and battered mechanic’s arms, looks down at my soft and smooth desk job hands and says, “When’s the last time you actually got ‘dirty,’ princess?” Good point, although I might add that an unflushed toilet provides excellent proof I haven’t “contaminated” his bathwater.

This coming April we’ll be traveling to Arizona for a whirlwind camping tour of some of the places we’ve been dying to see, and to spend some time with my grandfather, who lives in the Hot Springs Canyon area of the San Pedro River Valley. The San Pedro River is the last major free-flowing, un-dammed river in the American Southwest, and the National Conservancy has rated the area as one of the eight “last great places in the Northern Hemisphere.”

Among the many aspects of its tremendous ecological importance, it hosts two-thirds of our country’s avian diversity. However, the river valley’s delicate ecology is extremely vulnerable to human development, and local environmentalists have worked hard to protect it from various threats.

Grandpa Jim is an extremely energetic septuagenarian, and among other pursuits aimed at leaving the world better than he found it, he is a passionate environmentalist. As a member of a conservation group dedicated to preserving their beloved home, he lives in a small eco-friendly community near the river, eschewing many of the conveniences of modern society. We’re very excited to get a chance to spend some time in the area that has become so dear to his heart, and if the promise of “hot springs” holds true, maybe Scott will get a chance to share bathwater with the local wildlife.

I admire my grandfather’s dedication to the land he loves, and sometimes it makes me wonder if I really do enough in my own community. However, we’re a pretty normal suburban family who admittedly enjoys the many conveniences of modern life, and I’m not sure we’re ready to go “off the grid,” like some of his more dedicated colleagues. Nevertheless, there are so many little things we can do to live in better harmony with the natural world, and it makes me feel good to know that we try.

It can seem overwhelming at times with so many things to care about, and I learn something new all the time. Just last week a concerned reader informed me that the nautical defense technique of blasting pop music and other sounds across the ocean to ward off pirates, which I found so humorous in my last column, is wreaking havoc on whales and other defenseless sea creatures. I wasn’t able to find any definitive information on the subject, but it certainly makes sense. Sorry little guys (or in the case of the whales, I guess I should say “big guys”).

When it comes to environmental issues, it always strikes me how little most of us lay-persons (myself included) truly understand about the complexity of the natural world. I think there’s a strong tendency for many to dismiss the full extent of our impact and the actions necessary to protect the most vulnerable parts of our planet, including our beautiful Delta right here at home.

That’s my primary concern when it comes to the local controversy over the potential inclusion of the Delta in the national park system. I’ve spent many years fishing and canoeing its waters and the last thing I want is to be denied access to the enchanting parts of some its more remote canoe trails, but I can’t possibly understand the issue well enough to say it’s being protected enough through local efforts. I’m definitely in favor of more extensive studies, and I think a national park could be great for both the local economy as well as the Delta itself.

I’ll admit I’m a huge fan of national parks (and we’re actually planning to visit at least four in Arizona), so I’m obviously a bit biased, but it seems to me like our national parks are one of the things the federal government does best. I’m not saying for sure that our Delta NEEDS national protection — because I just don’t know for sure — but if we’re not doing enough, don’t we want to know?