I once heard a man named Smoke give a talk. First thing, if a man called Smoke starts talking, you shut up and listen. Secondly, if that man is talking about an issue close to your heart, you really shut up, listen, and pay close attention. Thirdly, if that man has been a packer for all his life, you give him respect because that is one tough motherfucker.
The occasion that I got to listen such a man came at my crew leader graduation. It must be stated that I had no idea who this man was at the outset of this event. The intrigue came upon learning about Smoke in the brief bio before he started speaking. This man had been a major factor in getting the Scapegoat Wilderness, which was a major win for conservation efforts in Montana, designated by the federal government. Without Smoke and his community fighting for their wild lands there would be a highway instead of mainly untouched wilderness to get lost in. The message of his talk however is what really struck a chord with me.
Smoke did not show up to give us pats on the back for the hard work, although his appreciation was made evident, rather his main focus was to pass the torch of conservation onto another generation in the hopes that light would glow on after he is gone. He talked of the struggle to get the land designated as wilderness and this is where, for me, the meat of his talk resided.
In order to get politicians on board in DC, Smoke and his group did not go to them but brought the city folk to the land. Smoke packed these out-of-staters into the backcountry. The reason for this, as Smoke explained to us, is that you can’t tell a person what experiencing the “hush of the land” is like, that person must be in it for his or herself.
The “hush of the land”, I had never put it that way before but that is what draws me out of society, the peace. Living in the woods for a period, I believe, is the most beneficial thing an individual can do for oneself. The woods maybe a bit harsh at first but that is because it is making you shed unnecessary worries. Living in society has taken essential survival issues off the table for humans and replaced them with trivial worries. A stay in the woods makes you come back down off this disconnected cloud and makes you understand what is really worth fretting over. It is humbling and you realize just how much comfort you can go without.
The buzz of the forest is so drastically different than that of a city. No machinery is around to create that constant hum cities have from never stopping engines taking those who are constantly on the move. The woods is so much more serene with the noises of creaking wood by trees shifting in the wind or an animal producing its call. These natural noises start and stop. If you sit on a hillside, make no sound but that of breathing, and listen you can feel just how alive the surroundings really are. It is important not to forget you are apart of a living home that consists of so much more than what the human race has put on it. Discovering and maintaining this connection is vital for human growth, something we are losing.
I’m lucky. I got to grow up in an relatively unpopulated state that provided easy access to the outdoors. This open space is something I’ve come accustomed to and in reality can’t move away from. The clarity my mind gains from going out into these spaces cannot be replicated. Out in the middle of nowhere is the only place where modern man can truly unburden himself from the temptations, distractions, and never ending motion that make up society. When you have walked for days with no sign of another soul you honestly know that it is just you and the natural world in the immediate vicinity. When you are alone, you must face yourself directly. There is no chance of interruption out there and try as you might to avoid this fact, inevitably you are gonna have to call yourself out on your own shit. As this happens, the daily tasks of backcountry living do not cease and through this you discover how much fight you have in you. Because the days can be difficult, you begin to understand that a lot your problems back in town aren’t really that big or that hard to solve. After enough time spent in nature, the worries you once thought were so important don’t even cause you to stir anymore.
I tried living in a big city once. I couldn’t sleep. The fact is if given a choice between having room to roam or being packed in an area with millions of others, why in the hell would you choose to live in a box on top of other boxes surrounded by concrete? Although I do get the fact that there are those who think I am crazy for enjoying the simple hardships nature has to offer. The thing is I tried the opposing option to my lifestyle for a few months and never got the attraction. Cities do have a lot of options in personal pursuits and humans are social creatures but there must be a limit to the stimulation of waking life. This is just my opinion and I do not deny the culture, arts, and innovations that have come from these crowded places. I understand the attraction of wanting to be a part of that. But I cannot help find it incredibly sad and worrisome that there are people in this world who have never even taken a walk in the woods, seen animals live in their own habitats, or experienced that hush you can only find when you leave civilization.
The human population is still growing rampantly meaning cities are getting bigger and more crowded. With no signs of slowing down the baby making, this eventually means more flow of people into my state who did not grow up with same understanding. My state has space because we enjoy it that way. The open land that is here is not up for grabs, to be sold to the deepest pockets, and covered up by cement. I get that stopping the population influx of my state, which people are already noticing, is futile. Rather the focus must be set upon introducing these new comers to the beauty of the hush of the land so that they may properly understand just why things are the way they are.
What Smoke told us that day is that it is up to us, who already understand the value, to keep these wild places accessible. We must continue as stewards of the land to show these benefits to those who have not seen them. It is our duty to preserve these seemingly empty spaces and prove how much they offer in physical and spiritual senses. We can not show this to them on a screen. We must take them in person to these beautiful wild nuggets of land so they can understand the need to leave them untouched.
-Fuck the Critics, Screw the Fans