DeFrates column: How to decide a future for our wild places
Where have you been? No, literally, where have you been? Besides ritzy hotels, posh beach resorts and perfectly manicured golf courses, where have your journeys actually taken you?
Have you been to the desert beyond the pavement? You would have seen towering spires of red sandstone, endless stretches of skies and stars at night so clear you can hear them burning, singing your manufactured sense of significance. Maybe you would have seen the molten red of claret cup cacti blooms, or the ponderous late-evening silhouettes of the stoic saguaro and marveled at life thriving in adversity. And in the blasting heat of the day you would have felt exposed, naked even in your designer apparel, unprepared and undeserving.
Have you ever stood beside a river during spring runoff? If you had, you would have heard the deafening rush of water unabated, invaluable, cold and powerful, quieting everything with its indifferent roar. You could have imagined all the lives that call for this water miles downstream, irrigating farms, washing little hands and greening a parched world that trusts in its purity. You would wonder how old the story of that river is. A story that has carved its way into the very bones of the shifting earth; a story that will not remember you.
Have you been in the pine forests at midday without a breath of air? Hot, sap-scented silence daring you to even exhale loudly. You would have found yourself whispering, if you had, like in an echoing cathedral, but more sacred. You would have wondered whether your next words really needed to be spoken, or if they were just another mindless interruption. You would have prayed for wind, or birds, or any noise at all because silence is terrifying when you are afraid of your own thoughts.
Have you been lost in the snow? Far, far away from the humming lifts of the busy industry of beautiful people, valleys and forests repose under the forbidding blanket of whiteness. You would have known how it feels to lose all sense of direction as quick, white storms hide the world and make you question even the cardinal directions you once knew. You would have felt powerless against the cold, lost, clinging to hope and shelter beneath a fir tree, praying for clear skies and a way back to the temperate world. When your fingers finally thawed, the value of one hot cup of tea in your hands would be inestimable for the rest of your life.
Have you ever passed the night on a windy ridgeline, exposed and battered by the endless entropy of air currents? Your tent walls would have never seemed so thin, and yet so welcome, shaking and shuddering against the gusts. You would have closed your eyes, hiding from the madness behind their flimsy protection and leaning on the simple companionship of those around you. You would understand what shelter really means.
And if you have never been to any of these places, then you do not know what you are doing when you lay them pompously on the altar of industry and public relations. In fact, if you have never been anywhere but in the world sculpted by man’s fragile, towering ego, then you do not know a lot of things. Your ethos is flimsy and your ignorance loud.
So take pass on Mar-a-Lago, and visit the roadless desert this fall. Quiet the jabbering of profit scavengers and find a guide who is fluent in loud, rushing water to show you the wild currents of hidden canyons. Perhaps even forgo your hourly 4G fix to quietly wander the alpine forests and high peaks for days on end. I will happily escort you and any member of your entourage bold enough to accompany us through whatever wilderness you would like to meet.
Then, POTUS, you may go back to your climate-controlled world, sit behind the fine desk where you take pictures with other important people, pick up your pen, and, now knowing something of the true cost, decide a future for our wild places.
Lindsay DeFrates lives in Carbondale and writes a column that appears on the fourth Tuesday of the month.