Local Beauty

The other day I went for a hike at a nearby state park. It was a Sunday, and I made sure to get there at 9 a.m. when they open. It’s crazy that they open at 9 a.m., but that’s what it is. There were lots of people with the same idea–there was a line of about ten cars when I showed up. The line went slowly as most people were rock climbing and therefore had to fill out paperwork. I usually don’t go to to this park on a weekend. I know how crowded it gets. But I figured it was off season (not summer or fall), and Sunday is the only time I can leave the house for a long period of time. So Sunday it was.

A ranger was trying to make the line go quicker by handing out forms. I asked him if I could go through seeing as how I was only hiking and had an Empire Pass to boot, but, as I suspected, I still had to wait. We got into a conversation about how crowded it had gotten, especially in the last year. He told me the crowds had been overwhelming. The garbage and the disrespect, he said, were upsetting. I understood completely. All the trails I walk have been pounded by feet and are strewn with lost masks and beer cans. What is going on here?

Of course today is Earth Day, which like many holidays, maybe started out with a good thought and then became just a token. Is it actually useful? When I finally got out on the trail, all I could think about was how useless I felt. Why can’t we do more? What do we do? Which is I think the defining question of this past year. Everyone feels this way about many different things. How can we change? Why is it so hard to change? Probably because not everyone wants to change. This is the saddest truth. That some people don’t see the problem, no matter how dire. So, we have to have some resignation, I guess, while we continue to put our own drop of water in the bucket.

I thought of the little things I try to do, as I walked the ancient white conglomerate rocks interspersed with pitch pine and serviceberry trees. One of the easiest things you can do is to not tag places–both the already highly trafficked places and the secret spot somebody may have told you about by word of mouth. To resist the urge to prove that you were there. It’s okay to keep a secret! We are only just learning how the internet has rewired us. It draws you in so easily, what is there to resist? Aren’t we just being helpful, we think, so that others can find things they might have missed? A thought that complements this is to explore those places near where we live, that are not so high profile. It might be a little harder to see the beauty and wonder without the waterfalls and mountains, but I assure you, it is there.

Writing here is not going to change the world, but I do know that lots of little things will change the world. I often overlook the fact that maybe these small gestures are the things that should be shared. Word of mouth is better than a hashtag. When I was talking to the ranger, we both agreed that these mountains were incredibly beautiful. We both also agreed that there are special places everywhere. I am a firm believer in everything local, from local food to local walks. I hope more people find and invest in the natural beauty around them. We have to be able to resist the feelings that pull us to believe that somewhere else is more important than what is right in front of us.

Notes:

Northern Harrier. I first learned about this amazing raptor while working at a winery, where I would watch one hunt over the grape vines while I had my lunch. Best lunch time ever.

Diana Beresford-Kroeger interview with For The Wild podcast. Thanks to a recent Outside Institute newsletter, I found this interview, which is from last year. I knew about Beresford-Kroeger only superficially and her life and mission are fascinating and important . Highly recommended!

Mushishi is my new favorite show. Lush and beautifully drawn, it focuses on shinto-inspired stories of mushi, creatures that reside in our word that are neither living nor dead. If you are a fan of Studio Ghibli movies, especially Hayao Miyazaki, you might want to check it out. Similar vibes of nature and spirit. It’s on Hulu currently. The original was a manga written by Yuki Urushibara. I would like to hang out with her.

Pom Poko, by the way, a lesser known Studio Ghibli movie not made by Miyazaki, is worth a watch. It’s about raccoons being displaced by human encroachment. There are some really funny parts to it, but my favorite part is where the raccoons decide not to exterminate humans only because humans make really good food. The thought that the best thing humans do, and thus worthy of life, is that they make great food (tempura! say the raccoons) makes so much sense to me. Of course! Food is the best thing we make.

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