We had walked about a mile up a steep logging road out the backside of our Gales Creek Campground. The trail followed the creek for the first half mile or so and then headed up to the top of a ridge. This beautiful wooded land, situated in the Tillamook Forest in Oregon, was nicely recovering second or third growth fir with beautiful vistas off to distant mountains. Logging debris marred the road's edges, along with a few cans and cigarette butts, but otherwise the forest was healthy and peaceful and quiet.
Walking over to the edge, where Benton had been rummaging, I was affronted with piles of toilet paper and human waste. And, despite the no camping signs, there were also several fire rings scattered about. Clearly this area had been used for camping by the worst kind of outdoorsmen, those who have no respect for the land.
As we trudged down the hill and back to camp, the bad behavior of a few disturbingly clouded our thoughts.
This morning, hanging out in camp, and reading The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks by Terry Tempest Williams, I found Williams' prose describing the splendor of our public lands enlightening. The passion of many preservationists -- John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Edward Abbey, Ansel Adams, Bob Marshall, Aldo Leopold, and so many others -- and a political system that put these glorious places in public ownership, filled my heart.
Sadly, other words flowing from Williams' book were not so satisfying. She described disastrous political decisions leading to the damage of wildlife corridors, barriers blocking rivers and fish migration, leases to mining, timber and grazing interests causing degradation of the land, destroyed artifacts, unwise road building, and both agency interference and budget cuts designed to strangle the work of the governmental bodies' responsible for maintenance and oversight. The list of misdeeds is long and torturous to those of us who believe our public lands are this country's most prized assets.
Then I read this: "How could he (John Muir) have imagined that the work of a backcountry ranger now includes picking up five pounds of toilet paper in a two-foot radius on the trail to Half Dome in Yosemite National Park". Sadly, I realized the political neglect and deliberate contempt for our land is only part of the story. Where is the public's responsibility? We cannot point our finger at politicians' misdeeds without correcting our own misdeeds.
That's when I put my book down and said, " Ed, we have work to do."
Grabbing rubber gloves, bags and a shovel, Ed and I set off to correct a wrong. We again hiked to the top of the ridge, picking up trash along the way and then picked up human waste at the top.
We also destroyed the fire rings in a pathetically small effort to discourage irresponsible campers from camping in this spot again.
Too little, we know, but loving the land as we do, it was a gesture, however small, to correct a wrong. We were doing for others what they should have done for themselves. We removed their trace.
Leave no trace! This is a simple concept. It means exactly what the words say: Leave. No. Trace. No cigarette butts, beer cans, bottle caps, body waste, dog poop, foot prints, fire rings or toilet paper. Not even your chewed gum or apple core. Outdoor ethics, plain and simple, Leave No Trace.
“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.”