Wandering Post (Sermon) about Nature

I wish I had read this story about climbing Mt. Everest before I wrote my post yesterday since it deals with hypoxia, yesterday’s prompt. It also deals with mountaineering which interests me and has since I was a little kid. The article contrasts “then” with “now” with the notion that “now” is incredibly better than “then.” In some ways that’s true. The “jaunt” up Mt. Everest is safer (as long as the climbers have their wits about them and good luck overall, I guess). In other ways I’m not so sure. It seems that Mt. Everest is turning into kind of an “experience” — not sure how to explain that but this struck me as surreal:

As of April 2021, 5,790 people have reached the summit, including a 13-year-old Indian girl, an 80-year-old Japanese man and an American man who has summited 15 times, more than any other non-Nepali person. Over the past decade, about 800 people per year have attempted Everest. In 2019, according to the Himalayan Database, a record 905 people reached the summit. As many as 1,000 people are currently in Base Camp, which is experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak.

story about climbing Mt. Everest

These days you buy an expedition, guide etc. and you are escorted up the mountain at a cost upward of $30,000.00 which almost makes the highest mountain on earth a commodity and an increasingly commodious commodity. It’s weird to me. A few days ago in a text conversation with a friend I laid out my beliefs about nature at this point in my life. I don’t know if she needed or wanted a lecture (I wasn’t lecturing her, it was more a lecture to an audience of several thousand people who weren’t there). I’ve had some of the most wonderful moments of my life “out in nature” (I happen to think that wherever animals are is nature so my living room is nature) and the good fortune to be “trusted” by some wild animals. I say that and mean it, but I don’t want wild animals to trust me or anyone. The nature-lover I was 20 years ago is different from the nature lover I am today.

Not long ago a woman running in the mountains near Durango, CO, was eaten by a bear and her cub. The bear and the cub were killed so that the contents of the bears’ stomachs could be identified. The woman was running with her dogs — off leash — during bear emerging from hibernation season. As I read the multitudinous expressions of horror and outrage, I only thought, “The bear didn’t do anything wrong.” And, “The bear didn’t get a fair hearing.”

If a dog runs ahead of a person, and contacts a bear, the dog will turn around and run back to its person bringing the bear with it. This is one very forceful argument for keeping ones dog with them in bear country. It was also the dogs running home without the woman that alerted the woman’s husband to something having happened to his wife.

Then…running. I loved to run. It was a consuming passion of my life until I was 55. But a running animal looks like prey, and, by moving quickly, is more likely to surprise a wild animal who might not have time to catch your scent or hear you coming. Also, I KNOW I was less attentive while running than walking. No one can be as attentive when they’re running. If I were to go into bear country now (I might) I would walk. I would keep my dogs with me. I would be very very attentive. I would have bear spray and I would wear a bell. Mostly, I think, I would know where I was. I think that’s the biggest, most important thing. Still, it would be dangerous. We can’t avoid danger; we can only minimize our chances of encountering it.

I spent a lot of my life oblivious. I did a lot of stupid and dangerous things. But the moment when I decided to try to see a mountain lion, I accepted that if I did, it was a contest I might not win. I succeeded and from that I learned lessons I badly needed, not just about how to see a mountain lion (safely) but about life and about nature.

During the time I lived in the mountains outside of San Diego a woman was killed and eaten by a mountain lion. Of course there was intense outrage and many calls to hunt the cougar down and kill it.

The news should have — but didn’t — make a big deal about the fact that the woman had a T-bone steak in her back pack. She had planned to hike to Green Valley Falls, get a campsite and cook her steak for supper. She was living in her head, clearly, not in that wilderness. The kind of fire that could cook a steak wasn’t permitted anywhere in those mountains after the Cedar Fire of 2003 but whatever. I think for a lot of people nature is an idea, the “wild” is an idea. The thing is, it isn’t an idea.

Last fall, when the Sandhill Cranes came through, I had a beautiful, magical time hanging out with them. Almost no one visits the Refuge during late summer into fall. Most days I was out there it was me and Bear or Teddy, on foot, quietly observing the cranes nearly every day. I don’t think the Sandhill Cranes are troubled much by people, but partly this is because our Refuge is designed to give the cranes a LOT of space. People cannot go INTO their world.

But, this spring, when there was no Crane Festival and more cars than ever were here bringing crane tourists who mostly wanted pictures, people violated the clearly marked parameters. The photos I saw were incredible, beautiful, but some were troubling because of that. When they are here in the spring, bachelor and bachelorette cranes find their mates. It’s not as sensitive as egg laying or some other things, but it’s a little sensitive. A couple of rangers (on the festival Facebook page) gently chided the photographers for going out of bounds. A couple of photographers had the nerve to defend their actions which were, IMO, indefensible. The wildlife biologists who care for the Refuge work very hard to establish a world that will keep the cranes coming and staying while, at the same time, giving people the chance to observe those wonderful birds. Boundaries.

So I don’t know. It reminds me of the bit in the Bible that says that humans have dominion over the beasts of the field, the fish in the water, the birds of the air. I guess — even people who reject the Bible — behave that way as if it’s all a TV show.

I changed as a hiker when my hips went south. I still wanted to be out there, but I couldn’t be out there in the same way I had always been. When my second hip went south a few years ago, my dog Bear taught me a new way to be “out” there. I probably couldn’t have learned that lesson any earlier in my life, but maybe I could have. Maybe it’s something we can teach people. Out here one of the best “schools” for that is run by the Bureau of Land Management for young hunters. It’s about the safe handling of fire arms and building a reverent and respectful relationship with nature.

P.S. Lots of people take their dogs out unleashed. Many of them know what they’re doing. This sermon/diatribe is not addressed to you. It’s to all the people whose dogs get lost in the mountains and need to be rescued, or whose poor paws are trashed by (suddenly!) going on a long trail hike on a hot day, or get trapped in talus, or get bitten by a snake or the numerous things that can happen to a dog who isn’t trained to come when called, isn’t trained to avoid snakes, isn’t trained to stay with its person. ❤

40 thoughts on “Wandering Post (Sermon) about Nature

  1. I would agree that most people are clueless when it comes to “being in the wild.” I’ve learned that Nature is a community. Humans are simply a part of it. And it can be astonishingly brutal, by human standards. That’s okay. We would do well to rein in our arrogance and become better community members.

    • I Listened to “All the way from America” over and over because the man in my life was on another continent and constantly promising he was coming back, which he did, but by then the ship had sailed, so to speak.

      • “I’m Lucky” is the song with the line “I can walk under ladders ” in it. I can’t find the one where she is talking on the phone..Need to dig out my old cassettes although I think that one was actually on an LP. I still have all of mine, but no player.

  2. When I used to run in the early hours of the morning, stray dogs would come follow and run with me. I put one dog in my backyard and called my boss to let him know his dog and gotten loose again and he could come get him whenever. I was in the great outdoors in my neighborhood. Way different than ‘in the wild.’ Why don’t people understand that instead of getting outraged?

  3. Excellent post! People are constantly trying to “tame” the wilderness and then they lament that all the wild is disappearing. We have that here – we have deer, coyotes, and all the rest. People put out salt licks, food, and plant attractive vegetation and then whine when the deer come and eat all the flowers and shrubs and nibble the leaves off the plants on their patios! They call pest control when they put out cat food (for the feral cats) and have raccoons and opossums licking the bowls clean! They just don’t make the connection between their behavior and that of the wildlife…

    • No, people don’t get it. A few years ago, when Bear and I were going out to observe a herd of deer, it suddenly penetrated my thick skull. The deer were following me. They understood my intentions perfectly. It was a very emotionally moving moment knowing that, somehow, my dog and I meant as much to those 8 deer as they meant to me, but it also told me, “Martha, don’t come here any more,” and I didn’t. The deer had figured out where my walk began and they were waiting. They walked parallel to Bear and me the 1/2 mile along the railroad tracks beside the golf course. They didn’t expect food. They had just come to expect us as part of their day. One day a young doe came toward us, cross the tracks, came onto the golf course. It wasn’t that they didn’t go on the golf course anyway, but they should not come onto the golf course when I was there with a big dog, or any people. The first time I met them, the buck was wary, and made his wives get behind him. That’s how it should be.

  4. The disrespect shown by some to nature is beyond sad. I’ll never understand the power humans think we possess. And are quite literally struck, at times by other creatures of God. There’s such power in the partnership with nature. But it certainly requires knowledge. I took my youngest son to Jackson Hole several years ago. I was going to hike up to Jenny Lake (love the Tetons~and of course, the Rockies feel
    Like home too). When we were buying bear spray and thinking bells in the shoes would be doable I stopped to THINK. I asked, “How far is it SAFE to hike?” He showed me. And I stated, “So why would I go to where there was a bear attack on a man yesterday?” He shrugged. Like Mt. Everest some just want to cross it off a list. I admire overcoming obstacles and achieving goals. But the mountains and animals deserve more. They have their own goals. And I don’t wish to trample them for the sake of my own. I respect them too much. I know this lady (I’m reading her book, My Everest, that I just got yesterday) who climbed at least 1100 feet almost everyday for a year. “That adds up to 10 Mt. Everests.” No need to immediately share. She’ll marvel at the cranes and walk quietly with her dogs among her beautiful valley. I hear the message loud and clear. I wish everyone would. 💛💜❤️🐶

    • Ooh. I think that lady climbed at least 1100 feet almost every day for more than 20 years, if we’re thinking of the same lady. 😉 I always thought it was kind of absurd that, after the first successful climb of Everest anyone wanted to climb it again. I could understand wondering IF people COULD climb it, but when they clearly could, what was the deal? It is just what you say for many — something to cross off their bucket list. You’re so right; animals have their own goals and ways and learning about that was a wonderful thing. Oh well. It’s in that lady’s book. ❤ Big hugs from me, Bear and Teddy ❤

  5. The beautiful thing about the wild is that nature doesn’t give a care about you. You live, you die, it doesn’t care. You’re just another critter. Unlikely… but you might just be on the menu today. People forget that and get into trouble

  6. Man-animal conflict has so many aspects. When you think about it, household pests have become pests because of our lifestyle: think cockroaches, mice, crows. From their point of view they have just discovered an endless source of food. So they leave their old lifestyle and have their own population explosion. The number of “emerging diseases” we’ve had in the last decade (Ebola, HIV, SARS, Zika, COVID-19, etc) are all due to our inability to keep these boundaries.

  7. I remember the woman from my area eaten by a bear. I did not know she had meat with her. What a fool. I always feel sorry for and want to protect and defend the wild creatures! I am afraid to hike alone not because of the animals but because of humans!

  8. “Hell is other people.” – Sartre. I only learned of that quote about a decade ago, but it has totally resonated with me ever since and I think about it at least once per week.

    Cindy and I are in the same boat as you, physically. It just about broke her heart when I finally had to tell her that I couldn’t tent camp anymore because my back simply couldn’t take the abuse like it used to. We upgraded to a travel trailer, which we bought a few months before the pandemic, but I don’t know that we’ll get to enjoy it now that all the newbies have discovered the “great outdoors”.

    One of our favorite places here in the Mid-Atlantic region is Dolly Sods, West Virginia – which has been completely overrun with new campers that are destroying the beauty of the place. We had planned on camping there with the new rig, but not now. We plan on keeping the travel trailer until we move to Montana, then decide whether to keep it or not.

    Hell really is other people.

    • My hope is that all those people who discovered the outdoors during the Pandemic will go back to their micro-breweries etc. I think the bears, deer, lynx, pumas and everyone else hopes the same. 🙂

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