Things have been really busy over the past couple weeks. Work and kids’ schedules have made it really hard to keep up with writing. I’ve had a couple good events, and another teaching opportunity, thankfully – it’s just a matter of catching up.
So while I know I’m running behind on my usual posting, I want (or need) to take a moment to rant – just a little.
I am all about getting people to reconnect with wilderness. I’m very excited when people want to spend time outdoors. HOWEVER, part of that experience and the benefit of it is recognizing the intrinsic value in wilderness itself. “Improving” the woods with a bunch of construction isn’t necessarily an improvement. Bringing your Bluetooth speaker to share your favorite tunes with all those in a half mile radius also detracts from the experience.
But the WORST sins have to be wanton destruction (like carving your initials in a rock, or tree, or cutting live trees for firewood) and treating a wilderness area like your own personal garbage dump. It shows a complete disregard for property, for other people, for your world. I’m all for a good party, but there are certain people and behaviors that will exclude you from the invite list – tear up the guest house and you will NOT be invited back!
As great as it is to get people outdoors, a certain amount of appreciation and care for the outdoors is an essential part of the experience. It’s why “Leave No Trace” and the Scouting “Outdoor Code” exist, as well as many regulations on group size, permits, etc. – it’s all there to allow the party to continue while not trashing the place and turning our treasured outdoor resources into a run-down frat house.
Why does this matter to me at this particular moment?
Well, I had a really good, short, backpacking trip this weekend – more to come on that later – but it was marred a bit by impact of people. Some of the problem was just the impact of numbers on a challenging landscape: social pathways that have become trails as people have looked for easier river crossings, etc. Some of it, however, was just carelessness and selfishness – trash left in fire rings, clothes (seriously) left behind at swimming holes. It was indicative of a total lack of respect, an attitude bred in thoughts like, “I’m only here for the day – let somebody else deal with my mess.” Well, I and my party were that somebody else – at least in the case of the small campsite we occupied. Beer bottles, cans, balled up aluminum foil, plastic drink bottles, half-burnt food wrappers, a pair of socks and a sandal – about 15 pounds of this went into a trash bag that I carried out. But there was much more there, everywhere, that we couldn’t get. You won’t see much of this in my coming writeup about the place. I didn’t take pictures of the ugliness, and you certainly won’t see it in the videos I captured – but it was there, gnawing at me.
This happened to be a place that I romanticized in my youth – a secluded wilderness area with beautiful treasures, that special place I went to again and again. Now, it appears to be party-central. So yes, there’s a little bit of emotional blowback on my part, perhaps inflating the negatives and dwelling on the imperfections in an otherwise gorgeous place (we still enjoyed the experience). BUT, it’s disappointing… and as insult to injury, when I returned back to civilization, THIS is one of the first things I saw – artifacts at Mesa Verde being vandalized in an act of selfish stupidity. The timing of this report and correlation with my own personal experience sent me over the edge…
So, I apologize for dwelling on the negative. It’s an age-old rule that a couple bad apples spoil everything for the rest of us, and I’m sure the abusers are in the minority, even in my own little corner of the woods. But this is MY WILDERNESS. It’s yours, too. It belongs to ALL OF US. That does NOT bestow anyone with the right to treat it with disrespect, or ignorance. You abuse the privilege, and you get kicked out of the club. Wilderness ethics are a learned skill, and some infractions are expected (I’m certainly not perfect) – but when you don’t even TRY, when you’re lazy or selfish enough to leave your garbage piled up for the next guy, when you intentionally abuse or deface or otherwise vandalize what’s there, you don’t deserve the privilege – and you ruin it for all of us. Be responsible. Show some respect.