Thursday, May 19, 2011
Words by Greg
Photos by Greg and Trina
Regular perusers of our blog will note that we have a tendency to swing between two poles. On one end, we seem to gravitate toward the homey comfort of Trina's kitchen and garden, often with dogs on our laps. In the other direction, we slip away to where plants and creatures inhabit wild, lonely places.
Each of these is a method of escape in which we try to deny or ignore the whole of civilization at large. Each, a refuge amid the broad peoplescape that confounds us and causes us dismay. A haven from the dark mark that the preponderance of humanity tends to stamp into the face of the earth.
Last weekend we set off (from Trina's homey kitchen) into Wilderness. Despite our interest in avoiding civilization (and denying our tangible connection to it) we rarely visit places that are designated Wilderness with a capital W. Mostly because we like to ride our bicycles and because the capital W disallows our use of bicycles within.
We accept that, in general. We believe there are places where bicycles should not be ridden. There are landscapes too delicate, too easily disturbed. Places where we feel the marks of humanity should be minimized and that any remaining semblance of the ancient natural world should be left as undisturbed as possible.
We loaded our backpacks and headed for Wilderness. Headed out to tread lightly on the land. Headed out with the hope that we would find ourselves on a narrow trail amid a wide, wild landscape. Instead, we found a swath of desert that had been trampled. We found multiple trails braiding through an area where a single trail had been. We found squished cacti and mauled flowers and torn trees. We found ravaged patches of cryptobiotic crust, the hard layer of mixed dirt, fungi and mosses which (they tell us) keep the fragile desert soil from blowing away, which promote the healthy growth of other desert plants, which allow the native animals to thrive in their habitats. We found places where mud had been churned into a barnyard stew and left to dry in the sun. All because cattle had been pushed through and had grazed the area.
We might be to blame. We eat meat. And we've even begun to believe that meat from animals that are free to range instead of being crowded together in factory farms is better for us and our planet. Our irritation at the destruction around us was cause for bile, but also cause for questions.
Is there really anything wild about wilderness in this age of "management"? Was our reaction a fully informed one? Are the soils really delicate? Is something of the future lost when it is damaged today? Is the trampling of cows an important replacement for the trampling of whatever wild beasts used to roam? Were we just reactionary "greenies" with chips on our shoulders and no understanding of the Real World? Why can a "Wilderness" area be ravaged by herd of roaming cattle and off limits to trail-ridden bicycles? If wilderness is so important, was it appropriate for us to be there at all?
We were there. Expecting to immerse ourselves in a wild location. But those expectations had to be modified somewhat. We had to go back to our usual mental games of looking the other way. Of focusing on the good things around us. Of seeing a larger view where the details of damage were more easily ignored. Of paying attention to the small creatures and plants that survived in the cracks between the ravages of civilization and the footprint of our own species' lives and greed.
It's a mental game we play constantly. We had sought a refuge inside the bounds of Wilderness. Very little refuge was found. We did, as we usually do, manage to enjoy the game. Three days. Two nights. Rough trail. Fast flowing creek. Sandstone and granite. But our idea of Wilderness, like the wild canyon where we wandered, was not left undisturbed.
Canyon "tree" frog.