Friday, February 17, 2012

Leave No Trace

Despite my grumblings about how I dislike the landscape down here, I do still go out into it. Even the boring, flat, open savanna forests of endless spindly slash pine are better than walking around in a subdivision. I like it best when the wind is blowing, because you can hear the gusts coming in over the distant tree tops, closer and closer; that's a beautiful thing. And unless there's a plane going by, the wind masks all human sound, which, in my preferred haunt, is minimal anyways, being in a pretty undeveloped area. It's a mix between a large wildlife management area and extensive privately owned land.

Which means yes, I'm trespassing on that private land. Even when I'm not, I still am, because I have to cross through a large private swath to get to the WMA; and as for that, you're supposed to pay $3 to go in there. But I've walked too far in too many forests to want to pay for the pleasure. I'm just walking around; if I were hunting or something I'd pay. As for the private land, I sort of abide by the "possession is nine-tenths of ownership" maxim; absentee landlords don't have much right to the land as far as I'm concerned; at least not to keep me out. Same principle as "no cop, no stop." I've only seen people in there twice, and staying hidden is pretty easy in such brushy terrain, especially since I'm always bushwhacking anyways. Actually gives a minor element of danger to a land where the predators have been mostly exterminated.

And really, what a silly concept ownership is, if you really sit down and think about it. I, transient creature, own this piece of land, that has been here for millions of years. What an ego trip! Now, humans are a territorial animal, so there is a point to which it makes sense. When your relationship to the land is what sustains your life, you have a right to that territory, because without it your life is at risk. Everything has a right to defend itself, and in that case, defending the land is defending yourself. But beyond that, to think that somehow this piece of dirt belongs to me, just because I decided so, makes no sense. If you think about it a minute, you can see why the Native Americans just didn't get it. The Earth belongs to itself; if anything, we belong to it.

I've been thinking about Del's post about how Northern Arizona University cut down a patch of ponderosa pines to add another office building, leaving only a few token trees. It's like I said before, about how people have no relationship with the land save that of buying and selling, and "resource extraction," rape by another name, or just plopping down buildings that have no connection to where they've been put. Architects' drawings always look like this: a lone building in some sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland, with no other buildings or people or anything at all. (Of course, given the new designs that seem aimed to make one feel uncomfortable and alienated, and which are usually freakish attempts for the architect to stand out, why bother with context? I refer you now to James Howard Kunstler's Eyesore of the Month series).

But his post really hit me, because it's the same issue as my day's irritation, that being trash left in the woods. Today I brought home four pop cans, and would have grabbed more, and the water bottles, beer bottles (broken and whole), random bits of clothing, and so on. I know there's a bunch out there, but I forgot, again, to bring a bag. How can people so blithely desecrate the land like that, even land they claim to own? They take their dirt bikes or ATVs out there, drink their beer, and leave the wreckage behind without a thought. I just don't get it.

I'm always especially amazed at it in the little patches in the city, since "nature" is so rare there; it's easier to notice that this patch of woods is beautiful because there's no human artifacts, given that it's an all-human world everywhere else in sight. I can't really imagine any reason anyone would be there save to enjoy that natural atmosphere. Well, I guess it's often kids out drinking illegally, or doing drugs, and the above mentioned vehicular "wreckreation." And in some state parks, I've even seen beer cans stuck on the ends of twigs, as if to showcase the fact that they've come all the way out to this natural space and decided to fuck it up with their garbage.

I don't expect everyone to be the kind of nature nut that I am, though a guy can hope... but a little respect would be nice. Is it really so hard to carry your trash out? You carried it in, and it even weighs less with the beer gone. Half the time the people are driving in a vehicle, with all that space to put a couple beer cans. Why do I constantly have to come across these things? One time, when working as a ridgerunner in New Jersey, someone had built a four foot fire ring directly on the trail, and had strewn about their beer bottles in every direction, several smashed against a tree, at least two six packs' worth, as if having themselves a competition; not to mention plastic bags, food wrappers and tin cans. It was part of my job to pack it out; which is alright, it let me get paid to hike, so to speak, but it's all just so asinine.


  1. When I worked as a firefighter with the US Forest Service, we didn't leave a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g behind after fighting a fire. We burned our paper sleeping bags (that's right, paper) and our trash before leaving a remote site. Anything that couldn't be burned or buried, like poop, was carried out.

    When you know you must carry out what you bring in, you work very diligently to bring in as little as possible!! At the end of a several days sojourn, the last thing you want is a heavy pack to hike out with.

    It was a valuable lesson and one I have tried to maintain ever since.

  2. Never did carry my poop out, I think that's pushing it a bit: it's organic, after all, decays naturally; you just have to know how to bury it. With a large, mechanized group, I agree with it, tho. Easy when you have trucks and stuff

    Then again, fire crews themselves can do a lot of damage out there, though I suppose it's to save towns and homes. Around here, they drive in, plow out fire lines, which are ugly scars that take a long time to heal. I guess it's better than having the whole forest go up, but I wonder if they're just putting off the inevitable, and making it worse by letting fuel build up.

    But that's a whole other post I suppose.

  3. OK, I didn't phrase that correctly. I meant that we buried our poop. :-D

    I served on an initial attack crew. For the most part, we were sent to remote areas in NE Oregon. We had to hike in and then hike out. In Federal Wilderness Areas, they wouldn't allow retardant dumps from aircraft, so we had to put out small acre or less fires by cold trailing (i.e., without much of any water).

    One aspect of my service with USFS that I am proud of was that our crew really made an effort to disturb the area as little as possible. With the exception of the charred area, it was often hard to tell that any humans had been there.

    But I do understand what you're saying about the big mechanized firefights. I participated in a few of those and I often thought, in those situations, we were doing as much harm as good!

  4. I appreciate that. I was out walking the local WMA today and noticed that, I assume, as part of the fire fighting effort a week or so ago, some tracked vehicle had stormed through a part of the forest, crushing right through and over the saw palmettos and other plants, quite a destructive thing, and right near a part of the forest I like best. Weird part was, it was only tangentally located to the fire area, as if someone on the fire crew decided they needed a new road and just drove off through the trees, away from the fire. Disgusting.