Light on the Land - Not!


Outdoor magazines and adventure groups seem to be increasingly employing a string of “light on the land” ethics.  I’ll stray from this philosophical cowpath and holler “hogwash!”

First of all, think about how all these outdoor enthusiasts have arrived at their opportunity to freely frolic in nature’s wonder.  They have most likely driven at least 100 miles using a carbon dioxide internal combustion engine.  More than likely, it was in one of the princes of degradation . . . an SUV.  Maybe even an Eddie Bauer version. 

This vehicle has been driven on top of miles of linear deforestation and hydrologic barriers, something we call roads.  The drivers have most likely been part of that urban crowd demanding more four-lane highways so they can save 30 minutes in reaching their “light on the land” experience.  Heaven help us if we have to plummet down these corridors at 50 miles per hour instead of 65 miles per hour.

Next, these “friends of the landscape” probably carry with them at least 500 dollars worth of clothing and equipment.  The simpler days of a tarp, denim pants, and rubberized rain gear have all but disappeared.  Many of these modern “necessities” have been acquired on-line or through a catalog, using more CO2 belching transport and manufacturing technologies, are made from materials that are far from “natural”, and purchased at prices that are difficult to rationalize.  I have never heard of a “gortex” tree or a polypropylene bush.  These things come from the oil fields of Saudi Arabia. 

Spending money for that 250 dollar rainsuit is certainly a priority.  Nevermind all the starving children in third world countries.  Getting wet might diminish the wilderness experience.  After all, we’ve only got three days to extract all the goodness we can from our tightly scheduled adventure plan.  If you don’t see an oxymoron here, then I’ll bet you’re a card-carrying member of the Sierra Club. 

It is now poor ethics to toss my apple core into the woods.  Never mind that it will quickly biodegrade and will certainly be feasted upon by any number small forest critters.  I can see the value in not tossing your garbage on the ground in a campground heavily infested with RVs and the smell of Deet.  But when you’re in a remote area?  Get real.

But what about the apple seeds possibly growing into an apple tree in the wild?  Apples trees are not part of the native flora.  Well, neither are you.  You’re probably not compatible with the local human ecology, either.  As far as the seeds go, the chances of them producing a seedling are next to zero.  Look up the science.

I once went with my daughter on a kayak outing with a local youth group.  The leaders were dismayed when I pulled some water out of the lake with a pot that needed cleaning.  “You know”, they condescended, “scraps of food might get into the lake when you do that”.  Oh my gosh!  A 100 acre lake of clear water with no shoreline development and little recreational use.  What was I thinking?  Pardon me.  Next time I’ll pull chlorinated water from the plastic jugs in the back of your SUV.

My daughter rolled her eyes at the leaders comments.  I told her to respect their wishes when you’re on one of their trips.

I might sound like a throw-back to some archeological age of land ethic.  Nevertheless, I maintain a deep respect for forces of nature and the integrity of their natural systems.  However, my land ethics are based on the land and the ecological sciences, not on the new age trends of many modern wilderness visitors.  And, some of this “light on the land” stuff makes good sense, when applied in the right circumstances.  But let’s not turn it into a new religion.  These ideas have been around for decades.

What the land needs is thoughtful consideration by people familiar with the environment.  Not a mantra of rules and personal etiquette.  After tapping into a huge economy of fuel, consumerism, and transportation . . . leaving an apple core for the squirrels isn’t a big deal.

If you really want to be “light on the land”, then stay home. 

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