I’ve been struck by something recently.
We live in a beautiful country, with amazing things to see and road access to breathtaking parts of the outdoors. And unlike most of the rest of the world’s beauty, we’ve never had ours spoiled by bombing raids or cleared to make more paper.
Yet we’re encouraged to stay away. To avoid actually experiencing it first hand. Conservation has turned the corner and become restriction. And I’m not just talking about our most visited national parks –
The full moon happened right around my Birthday this year and it inspired me to take a midnight hike with my dog. Reading that probably sparked one of two responses in you: You think it sounds like a great idea. Or you think I’m stupid. Either way… humor me….
I knew I could drive up to the top of my neighborhood, right against the foothills, and hike up into the darkness by the light of the moon. I took my crazy black hiking dog with me, and yes… a headlamp for me and a blinking spotter light for her. Just in case.
And I didn’t need the lights. The full moon created more than enough light to see details of our hike, even details in my jet-black pooch.
The problem was finding parking. And then getting onto the trails in the first place. Not because they were overcrowded, but because they were “closed”.
How do you close the outdoors?
No parking after 10pm. No use of the park or surrounding trails after dark. Well, it’s midnight and I’m an adult not a gang of kids with a spray can… So I went hiking dammit. And it was beautiful.
The lights and detail of the city far below. The trail illuminated in the grey/blue of moonlight. I wished everyone I know could have shared it with me. Except I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about the fact that technically, I was breaking the law. If the cops knew, they’d question me. In fact, I could have returned to my car to find a ticket or a guy with a badge and a bunch of questions.
And it’s not just the foothills of my Los Angeles neighborhood. I’ve been into the backcountry many times in the last few years and there’s strict regulation about permits. If you don’t have government paperwork… they’ll kick you right out of the middle of no-where. I’ve met these rangers seven to ten miles from the nearest tiny ribbon of road. They carry guns, and they want to see your papers.
Free Country? Look at those two words for a moment. I don’t mean socio-political definitions. Free. Country. Go outside… Look at it… Walk around a bit… See something besides your TV…
But you can’t. Not unless you get the right permission. And stay on the path. During business hours. While not picking the flowers. Or stepping on the endangered perma-moss.
Cause we have to conserve everything. Keep it pristine for the generations to come.
How far back are these generations going to have to stand from the beauty? Seeing everything from a perfect post-card distance is nice… but it’s as real as the postcard.
All this great, spectacular land is supposed to be enjoyed. Get it under your fingernails and breathe it in. This whole country was settled on the basic premise of… “Hey… let’s go that way…”
And now we can’t.
Which leads me to the one time I can think of where lack of restriction surprised me: I was solo-hiking in Yosemite and I climbed the cables on Half-Dome. Of course, there were tons of folks around me and the cables are there to let the masses reach the top. But once there, all restriction disappeared.
There were no fences. No railings to prevent you from walking off the side and falling 3,000 feet to the bubbling river far below. People got as close to the edge as they dared. Some crawled. Some strolled out and climbed around. Some took a picture from a safe distance.
But no one asked for a permit, or kept us behind a white line. It was a personal thing, you against the wild world. Do what you dare. And I walked to the edge, sat, and peered down, past my feet, to that river so far away.
Nothing to keep me from falling. And no one to tell me to move.
Isn’t that what our Land is supposed to be about.
Forget looking… Go touch… and be touched.