There’s been an ongoing discussion I’ve been having with a remarkable horsewoman and writer/editor of a popular horse magazine about a topic which interests me and concerns me more than any other, after my boys and my animals. This post is based upon a note I wrote to her on this topic last night.
I don’t know why I feel so concerned about this, but I thought I’d share it with you. I realize how far away this topic is to so many. And still how deeply it touches others, like all those who come up here year after year after year, just to be here, to remember the sounds of the birds or the silence, the beauty and wildlife, the peace and serenity, that feeling it gives you inside that nothing else can.
Bob and Forrest and I have been talking this over a great deal the past few days. We see the problem, we don’t see the solution. But we did consider how important this is, so I’d like to take this morning to discuss this with you. I mentioned it briefly in a post last month entitled Wilderness, addressing the reduction of use of the Wilderness. I use the “big W” since we are blessed to live adjacent to the Weminuche Wilderness. But really what I’m talking about here is the “little w.” The wilderness. The wild. The value of the wild. And our decreasing use of, interest in, and value placed on the wild places…
As outfitters, we saw the reduction in business. And as people spending time out there in the Wilderness during “peak season” probably more than any others around here, we saw the reduction of use, especially in any use beyond a short day’s hike. We began to converse with Juli (the above mentioned writer). With her vast readership, she has the ability to reach out to folks all over the country. She received some real and informative answers from her readers, confirming that back country use all over the country is declining. So we then turn to find reasons why. Juli’s readers again help give us some great insight into these reasons. So then we ask ourselves, what we can do about it?
And why should we care? I had one reader respond with, “gee, great, more for me.” That’s not the answer here, folks. Why aren’t we out there enjoying the wild more? Why don’t we care? Have we forgotten what it feels like, and what it can do for us deep down inside, and what it really means in the big picture?
One of the big problems is that us back country users/enjoyers are getting greyer, and the younger generations aren’t going out there. Why not? If we can blame someone, do we blame ourselves, the parents and elders, who don’t make the time to take the kids on a pack trip, a camping weekend, or even a long Sunday hike? If they aren’t given the chance to be out there, how will they learn to appreciate the wild? How will they ever know how incredible it feels, smells, sounds, looks? There are some things that can not be replaced by the TV, the Game Boy, the Instant Messenger, etc. Are we teaching our kids to sit and listen to stories, to walk in nature, to stop and listen and look and feel the beauty of the world around them? Is it too late?
You see, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to take small groups of kids from a summer camp out on pack trips for a couple years. I truly believe each and every child who participated was touched in a way that would effect them forever – touched by nature, by wildlife, by the responsibility of caring for their horse and in turn, trusting the horse to care for them, by the camaraderie of such simple but true friendships that are built around camp fires and out gathering horses in the early morning dew. I wish more kids could have this experience. Children’s camp like that is usually limited in its scope and available only to an “elite few,” but as Forrest says, at least we had the chance to open this world up to those few.
Much of my outfitting work now is day rides with people who have never been on horse, or at least, never taught how to be on a horse. I am given the opportunity to share this with my guests, and then take them out to show them something even more: the mountains and trails and wild places all around us. Still, every time I take riders out, I am so excited when I return and tell Bob all about how wonderful this person did, how I watched him or her do so well with their horse, what a beautiful time I know they had, and most important, how special a day I was able to provide for them, what a world out there they got to experience that they didn’t know existed before that ride, or at least forgot, and needed this simple time in the saddle out there to remember..
I know this sounds really sappy, but it’s really important. Less and less people know what it feels like. Being out in the wild just does something for a person, it is so hard to explain this, bear with me a minute. You know the old saying of “there is nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of horse.” That’s a lot of it. But it’s more. There is nothing like waking in the morning to the crisp mountain air, and listening to the cow elk call her calf as you sit on the hillside and sip your coffee, to make you think about what really matters in this world. There is nothing like arriving at camp after a long day of hiking or in the saddle, and feel so at home, having “earned” your place relaxing by the campfire, to remind you of the simple pleasures in life. There’s nothing like seeing the stars out there, so far away, when you step away from the heat of the fire to feel your true place in this very big picture.
Nature is so important. And if we don’t use it, we could lose it. We will lose a part of ourselves if we forget or never know what it feels like. And we’ll risk losing the wild places. Man seems to feel that every thing needs a purpose. If the purpose of the wilds is no longer valued for the irreplaceable goodness it provides for our body, mind and soul, then Man will probably put it to another use. Yes, our trails will be the first to go (we already have an ongoing struggle to keep them maintained). But then the wild places themselves may go – be sold off, sectioned off, a “better” use may be found.