I'm sitting in the Kallispell Mall watching hipster teens pick out accessories at Claire's, old men talk to themselves as they wait on a bench, and middle age couples cruise around - new purchases in hand. Will I really be working in a mall in two weeks? Coming from Field Camp this people watching is amusing, I hope I stay removed enough from it to keep that view while spending 40 hours a week in one.
The last three days I spent in Many Glacier, a slightly removed corner of Glacier National Park, seeming to be more wild in scenery and wildlife than the already impressive going to the sun road regions. I saw three grizzly bears, three moose (cow, calf, and bull, a few hoary marmots and some folks in my group were lucky enough to encounter a pine marten! It was a wet chilly trip, temperatures between 30 and 50 most of the time with pretty consistent precipitation - sometimes rain, sometimes hail. The group I was with are visiting Glacier from the Adirondack Hiking Club (most of them living in upstate New York). My boss and I are both pretty thankful for that- they've been extremely resilient despite the less than ideal circumstances. So we hiked past lowland lakes into the high country to see glaciers cleaving into growing lakes and already deglaciated lakes with icebergs in them.
This landscape is quite certainly impressive.
After a few days I found myself less than satiated from the experience and wondering... why? Watching these neatly dressed folks walk around on the shiny tiled floor of this mall I think I realize why. National Parks - are a lot like malls.
Nearly every hike the Glacier Institute leads people on in the months of July and August (the only months the entire park is open and accessible) is teeming with people. Coveted destinations become that way for a reason- they are beautiful- people like to see beautiful places. The irony that more visitors detract from the "scenic wild beauty" everyone is coming to see seems lost on most folks as they amble along these well traveled paths.
Sometimes as I hike I wonder when I will see a weasel, or bear, wildcat, wolf. Lately I've realized - despite them BEING here I might as well count on NOT seeing them so long as I pass 10, 20, 100? people along the trail.
I guess it's more a matter of knowing what you're getting yourself into. It's good for folks to have a chance to see nature, for screaming babies to venture out with their parents and siblings, for city folk to see mountain goats. Are they seeing a wild place? Kind of. Being around them all- am I seeing a wild place? No.
I'm thinking I should get to know the Bob Marshall Wilderness. I'm thinking the romantic notion I've harbored about National Parks is mostly defunct. I'm wondering if it's possible to feel "wild" in a place where people from all over our country and others are corralled to stand in front of interpretive signs and learn about a place.
Beyond anything I know that I'm very thankful for cities. Cities and towns are absolutely where the mass of society should hang out in. Should everyone appreciate nature? Sure, that'd be great. But if everyone hung out in wild places all the time they would in fact be less wild.
I've had a lot of adventure buddies that have felt this way; I've always viewed it as cynical and selfish, but after living in a beautiful nature setting and having to interact with as many people as I see walking around this mall I know what they mean. I'm glad not everyone hikes the Appalachian Trail. I'm glad wilderness is scary to some people. And I'm glad the majority of folks passing this window, cell phone in hand, texting, will spend most of their time in corporated city limits.
One final thought, advice from Edward Abbey:
"Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am-a reluctant enthusiast... a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards."