Things that make you go hmm

photo courtesy

photo courtesy

It’s always a little bit embarassing to be caught out by someone who doesn’t even know you. To be described so perfectly by an utter stranger. To suddenly see a piercing truth about how you move through life.

Consider the following from Desert Cabal, a fine new book by Amy Irvine, describing the scene in Moab, Utah:

“Everywhere you look there are these hyped-up, tricked-out, uber-fit, machine-like humans that pump, grind, soar, and scramble through the desert so fast they’re just a muscled blur. The land’s not the thing, it’s the buzz.”

I’m not claiming to be Boulder-fit. I can’t run up mountains or huck my mountain bike off ten-foot ramps. I’m skinny, but not ‘whoa, that dude’s an ultramarathoner’ skinny. Compared to these Moab types, my ramblings on the trails and lakes are pretty pedestrian.

But in terms of attitude, more often than I’d like to admit? Yep, I’m right there.

Ripping along on my fancy fat-tire Trek over the rocks, across the roots, there’s not much appreciation of nature. John Muir and Thoreau are taking the day off. It’s X-Games time. How fast can I take this Strava segment? Can I get air over that rock? Carve a deep turn through that banked section?

Occasionally hikers appear ahead on the trail. Usually there’s time to hit the brakes, to slow down, to be courteous. I’m a little abashed to be using the same space as they are for such different purposes. Them: quiet, relaxed, perhaps contemplative. Me: the whoosh of tires on dirt, wind through the helmet, every muscle activated and firing, unable to relax my focus.

Biologists say that the presence of humans where wildlife lives can stress them dangerously. Even skiing through habitat places stress on the creatures who live there, making their survival just a little more tenuous. Our toys have effects far beyond our immediate experience of them.

People who do these things outside — the roof-rack crowd — would say that they are environmentalists. That they — we — care about the preservation of the wild, to paraphrase Thoreau. Then they/we burn gasoline to get to the trailhead, pull out the latest gear made with exotic materials, and treat the wild like our personal playground.

To be fair, the author isn’t pointing fingers at others. She cops to being part of the problem herself. Who’s doing more damage to the land, she asks, the drillers or the thrill-seekers?

I don’t know how I’ll reconcile this. I enjoy going fast. I also enjoy being still, and quiet. I give my credit-card number every December to groups trying to protect the places that I dream of running, riding, and paddling through.

Intentionality, as always, seems to be the key. How and why we go. How we act when we’re there. How we leave things. Whether we even think about all this.

“The land’s not the thing, it’s the buzz.”

Maybe if we make the land the thing, if we choose sometimes, in some places, to forego the buzz, we can work this problem out.

Patrick Dean