Maybe the first thing that has to change is the language with which we talk about our destinations. The days of bagging peaks and taming rivers are over. We need to be willing to celebrate the fact that Everest has allowed us to stand, for a moment, on her summit, or that the Salmon River has allowed us safe passage without drowning this time.
We need to think of the wild places we go to test ourselves as something not to be conquered but to be cared for. We need to earn our right to our adventures by honoring our bargain with the land.
GUARANTEED WHALE SIGHTINGS
Reads a sign in Provincetown, Massachusetts; GUARANTEED WHITEWATER EXCITEMENT, says a brochure on my desk. In all the rush to capitalize on the adventure craze, marketers seem to have forgotten that the words adventure and guarantee are antonyms. The fact that nothing can ever be guaranteed is the very essence of adventure.
No organization, no matter how rich and powerful, can promise that it will rain enough to fill the river, that the whales will be in the same spot they have always been before, or that bad weather can be held back long enough for us to reach the mountaintop, long enough even to bring everybody back alive.
We are all guilty of one form or another of disrespect. Even if we take nothing away from the land, we still leave footprints, both actual and cultural, on the wild and distant lands we visit. And the inhabitants of those places are forever changed because of this.
It does not escape my notice that I may be the very worst type of offender, because although I believe I treat the landscapes and the cultures I encounter with great respect, I come home and write about them, encourage others to visit them and inevitably change them forever from what they were.
Some people believe in wilderness for wilderness’s sake
That there ought to be places, both inhabited and not, that people of the modern world just can’t go. I have to admit it’s an attractive argument, but it comes from as separatist a view of the world as the one that says the sole purpose of nature is to be our playground.
We are part of nature, and our desire to venture out and into it is as intrinsic as a grizzly’s desire to scratch its back on a tree.
Can we tell people to stay home with their Webs and Nets and modems? Can we ask them to tread lightly when they do venture out? Of course not. But if they are true adventurers, they will come to that knowledge without anyone asking them to. If they are true adventurers, they already know.