It is hard to imagine a more peaceful setting than the myriad times that I found myself lying back in my trail hammock at the edge of a verdant mountain meadow listening to the babbling of the nearby creek as the gentle wind made the tops of the tall pines sway and dance above me as I looked up at a trillion brilliant stars twinkling in the inky black blanket of the night sky. I remember countless times watching the fire of brilliant reds, oranges, and pinks of the sunset as the sun slowly sank into the Pacific Ocean while I watched from the tree-lined Oregon coast as the powerful breakers continually crashed over the rocky crags below. It makes one feel small in such lonely beautiful places, but intimately connected to God’s creation in the universe just the same.
As I grew, I joined the Boy Scouts and wandered even farther afield with them as we hiked nearly the entire Washington and Oregon sections of the Pacific Crest Trail, albeit not in one outing. The memories of seeing the sun rise over Mt. Jefferson or the coming down off the trail to the little town of Stehekin on the northern tip of Lake Chelan as we passed a small orchard of apple trees nestled between the forest and the town where two black bear cubs were trying to get as many apples as they could reach are some of those most memorable moments that I still recall some four decades later.
In all of my adventures into the backwoods, mountains, and secluded river-ways, I was always struck by the friendliness of the few occasional travelers that we would happen to meet in those remote places. They always seemed to share that same sense of reverence and belonging to the wild. Because of this, we and all of our fellow outdoorsmen and women knew that it was incumbent upon us to care for these wild places. We would always burn our trash in our campfire or carry out what could not be burned. We were always very careful to leave no trace that we were ever there. We certainly never were careless with our campfires.
Nowadays, as the coarseness and self-centeredness of our culture has only increased, I am seeing the signs of this being reflected in the neglect, abuse, and even desecration of our wild natural places, and it saddens and angers me greatly.
noted a story where a man named Ryan Anderson, with his wife and two children present, carved his and his wife’s initials into the beautiful sandstone Corona Arch near Moab, Utah. He was caught though and consequently issued an apology as his business received the fallout from his thoughtless desecration of this magnificent arch. What a poor example he set for his children in the stewardship of our natural treasures.
One of the incidents that truly upset me was when a group of Boy Scouts pulled up slabs of rock along a track way of 190 million year old dinosaur tracks in a Utah state park and threw them into the river below. Three of the boys were charged with the crime in juvenile court for their short-sightedness. This was especially egregious, as these boys should absolutely have been taught respect for their natural environment and known better, since they were scouts.
Sadly, this type of foolishness is not just limited to the inanimate objects of God’s creation, but also is sometimes seen in the treatment of wild animals by the ignorant, foolish, and selfish. It has long been a problem in many of our national parks, particularly in Yellowstone and Glacier, where people feed the local bears. This only causes the bears to associate people with food so instead of staying in the back country, the bears come into camps and populated areas of the parks looking for trash and unsecured backpacks or coolers for something to eat. While the park service tries to capture these bears and return them to the back country, almost invariably they eventually return to the camps and in dangerous proximity to people. Because of this, the rangers are sadly required to destroy these bears to protect stupid people.
I had the disturbing experience two years ago of seeing a black bear in Glacier National Park having to be shot by a ranger as it prowled through the parking lot near the Apgar visitor center along the southern shore of Lake McDonald. According to the ranger, the bear was becoming aggressive towards people and had already been captured and relocated once before only to return to where people were, which the bear now associated with as a source of food.
Back in 2014, my wife and I while traveling through Yosemite National Park witnessed a very stupid young man in khaki slacks running up the hill with his girlfriend to get a better picture of a mother black bear and her two cubs. We yelled for the idiot to get back down to his car as he approached within ten yards of the mama bear. We immediately called the ranger and reported the jackwagon. He was indignant at us and didn’t understand the danger he was putting himself and his girlfriend in with his foolish escapades to get a better picture for his Facebook page. He is damned lucky that the bear did not turn on him and injure or kill him. Of course, if the bear did defend a perceived threat to her cubs and attacked him, the bear would have had to been killed and thereby also jeopardizing the likelihood of her two cubs surviving. All this for some arrogant and ignorant snot to get a “cool” picture.
story from 2016 of some foreign tourists in Yellowstone that came across a baby buffalo and out of well-intentioned but foolish ignorance were worried about the calf being lost or cold. They, therefore, decided to pick up the calf, load it into their SUV, and take it to the ranger station accordingly. The rangers tried to reunite the calf with the herd, but to no avail and therefore had to destroy it.
As human populations grow and our towns and cities expand, we inevitably encroach even more into those few remaining wild places we have left. We need to be aware that we are not the only inhabitants on this earth and govern ourselves accordingly. God’s creation is meant for us to enjoy and to be great stewards thereof. Instead in our selfish, foolish, and arrogant me-first culture, we are rapidly defacing, desecrating, and destroying some of our natural wonders and the wild creatures that live there. This truly breaks my heart to see this, as my grandkids already will likely never see and experience some of the wild places I treasured as a boy and young man.
The great naturalist John Muir once wrote that “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” Indeed he is absolutely right, and I wonder what humanity will do when we have destroyed the last of the wild places on our earth.