Coming from a family of farmers, I have never been much of a tree-hugger. Although I love the outdoors, particularly the woods and wildland, I never paid much attention to politics or save-the-earth campaigns. I figured that since most people enjoy camping in some fashion, that there would always be some sort of national park nearby to enjoy. I've taken for granted the forests and wildernesses right here in my back yard.
Over the years, as I have grown into adulthood, I've seen things change. The river where our family's cabin sits in North Idaho has become overrun with RV's and people floating in inner tubes with coolers of beer floating alongside. Trails have become torn by motorcycles, and in the winter, snowmobiles. My friend Eric calls this "old Idaho" but it seems to me to have increased in recent times.
When I take my kids hiking at Kamiak, people are everywhere, along with the inevitable trash and damage. The trail has been made wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs. While I am all about accessibility, it seems odd to see a road leading up the Butte.
I write all of this to lead up to what I really wanted to say. I'm beginning to see the value in preserving wilderness, both physically and politically. For my job, I maintain a web site and make podcasts about the history of one of the most pristine wildernesses in the Lower 48, the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.
The podcast I made this week dealt with several different people commenting on what they perceived to be a threat to the future of "wilderness" as a construct. One answer in particular moved me, because I found his words to be so true:
I think that positive experiences in wilderness are the only thing, the only way that it’s going to happen, and getting kids engaged in their natural areas around their homes, you know, the creek behind their house, building forts, snowball fights. Little things like that. Getting kids outside. That’s the single greatest thing, is kids now are more focused on getting home, and getting the next level on their video game than they are about going in riding their bike, and jumping off of something, and breaking their arm, and you know? What happened to the playgrounds with pea gravel where’d you get scrapes, and you have rocks embedded in your shoulder. It’s become easier now; there’s foam mats because parents get mad, because the kids came home with scraped knees and it’s the school’s fault because they have pea gravel. And, like, we as a society have gotten soft. We really have, and wilderness will never get soft. It’s always hard. It’s always going to be difficult, and we need that. We have to have that because it’s where we came from, and it gives us a chance to go back to that.You can listen to the podcast in its entirety here.
As my kids grow, I find this to be true more and more. We have lost our pioneer spirit; the sense of adventure that brought us to this country in the first place has been replaced by safety rails and obsessive warning labels. Civilization has inserted its cell phone towers into every corner of the globe, and there is almost nowhere now where you can truly find nature untouched in its raw beauty and unreachable serenity.
To be able to find such a place, where you can actually experience quiet unpunctuated by motors or technology, to find a respite from schedules and phones and fast food, to go somewhere without predictable, straight lines in the architecture, and where the modern illusion of safety and security gives way to a more primitive survivalist living; this is something worth saving. It's something worth introducing to my children. It's worth asking people to learn about responsible recreation practices so they don't ruin it for others. It's worth having a place to remember where we came from, and what our ancestors faced to come here. It's worth it to save a slice of God's creation as He made it, and to enjoy the unmatchable artistry of His handiwork.