Greedy for spring


(Fog, hats, gloves, coats…we’re done with that. Somewhere on the Perimeter Trail last winter.)

(Previously published in The Sewanee Mountain Messenger. Reproduced by permission.)

To state the thunderingly obvious, it’s warming up outside. We’re in that sweet spot before the gnats appear, before it’s too hot or humid.

Jackson the dog and I head out to our favorite spots on these glorious afternoons and occasionally find a car parked at the trailhead or gate. Part of me — the ridiculous part — gets indignant.

“Wait, what? [I say to the unoccupied car.] What are you doing here? Where were you in early January when it was 32 and foggy? Jackson and I have put in the time over the winter, out here every day, and now that it’s nice, you’re just going to show up and take our trail?!”

I told you it was ridiculous.

But I still feel that way.

Then I think of a recent dispute in Montana over a rails-to-trails project. A landowner sued to stop the project, saying the property had reverted to his family when the railroad cleared out.

“They want to bring a train through here, that’s fine,” the landowner said. “We never expected and we never agreed to a bicycle trail.”

Try as I might, I can’t conceive of preferring to have a railroad run through one’s property over a bike path. But that’s sort of the point.

There will be always be contentiousness over land — especially land which is relatively undeveloped, able to be enjoyed as something like nature. We treasure those places, even though we sometimes have funny ways of showing it. The phrase “loving it to death” comes to mind when I think about our national parks and other “natural” areas that have beaten threadbare by human impacts.

Probably the only answer is to think less “mine” and think more “ours.” Using a trail or meadow or stream and thinking of it as “mine” — even, or especially, if it happens to be one’s legal property — can make us jealous of it, hoarding it away from others and feeling personal injury when anyone else has the nerve to enjoy it.

It’s not our best feature. We humans have to be taught to share as little children, and the lesson often doesn’t stick. 

Whoever is parked at “my” gate doesn’t know that Jack and I have been there through snow, sleet, and polar vortex. And if they did, they could ask, so what? That doesn’t make the trail yours. And they’d be right.

Perhaps there’s a sweet spot in this situation similar to the one we’re experiencing weather-wise. Maybe we need to care some, but not too much. Be prepared to work to keep these special places special, and worthy of visiting, while understanding that other people, some of them with different ideas than ours, also value and want to visit them. All while remembering this simple truth: the greater the number of people who love and appreciate a place, the better the odds it can survive and thrive. 

And if someone’s parked at your gate, wish them a wonderful experience and try a different spot. That’s what Jackson and I will do.