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Another Modest Proposal

keeping natural America real

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, July 27, 1994.

There is an article in Newsweek this week about how overcrowded our National Parks are. More compelling is one photograph that looks like a joke, a parody of a Norman Maclean short story. About 20 fly fishermen standing cheek by jowl in an Alaskan river. No fish could traverse the stream without being caught in the boot laces of the nattily clad fishermen, and it is not clear if a lure or fly could find a patch of water on which to land. It is ridiculous to watch people pretend they are having both a fun time and a relaxing one when the photo most closely resembles a rush hour MTA car without roof and sides sitting in the river Charles. And this is Alaska. Recent photographs of the Grand Canyon are more ridiculous. Far more terrifying.

In the Grand Canyon and along other western rivers, the beauty of nature is ruined irrevocably by loud, piercing tourist boats that hurtle through the waters in mockery of respectful observance. Sometimes the boats' engines blend into those of the tourist planes filled with tourists seeking an even faster, pointless millisecond of nature communing. Both combine to render silly someone naive enough to have hiked in in order to experience one of the world’s treasures and instead listens to internal combustion engines and inhales the residue all day. And why is it ruined? So idiots can have a virtual reality experience better and cheaper done by two dollars and a vision helmet.

Our parks and natural monuments are being destroyed by snow mobiles, trail bikes, off the road vehicles, and mountain climbers who confuse their inner well being, sense of adventure, and selves with something of actual value. We have made nature far too accessible, far too easy to not respect or fear; to easy to not admire. If a pedestrian cannot walk in the woods without cocking an ear for the wheels of a mountain bike gutting out the trail behind him, something is very wrong.

There is growing conflict about the use and method of use of all public land, and many resident and new lobby groups are present in the fights, elbowing for position. That we have to weigh loss of income to manufacturers of trail bikes and three wheelers if we restrict their use clearly reflects the selfish and self serving positions on the table. I myself note two distinct groups of disgruntled sports and nature lovers who might be able to work together for the good of the commonweal. Sportsmen, by which is meant grim-jawed white men with telescopic sights and powerful rifles, and sports faddists, who discover each new sport, and pointlessly wear it and the accepted clothing out in time for the next marketing blitz.

What to do with mountain bikers who complain they are deprived of their constitutional rights if they can’t bring vehicular travel to the rim of the entire Grand Canyon, who decry that their love of danger and excitement is fully the equivalent value of maintaining the parks? And what to do with our nation’s hunters who feel rapid fire from assault rifles in circling helicopters and infra-red sights on weapons that can bring down nursing deer at two miles are closely entwined with their social standing and testosterone level. I can envision a solution, involving both parties. Two shots allowed and then the hunters might have to tree themselves while the herds of enraged bicyclists stampede towards them. They’d by safe as long as the bike trail didn’t damage the tree’s roots. That’s about an hour. The sportsmen get to satisfy their inner needs and the sports faddists get a reality check.

Other possibilities: In an era of military cutbacks, hands on training for recruits might be achieved by sitting them with shoulder mounted missiles along the national parks and bringing down tourist planes, thereby not depriving the passengers of a real-life adventure they so ostentatiously seek. Given the quality of our military hardware, the plane wreckage probably would not exceed what already occurs and most likely would bring down the craft in more accessible areas where they would not have to lacerate the landscape for future generations.

Gross overpopulation is annoying, yes, but it need not be just a boring deterioration of species and planet. Make it fun! Why should serial murderers be the only real constructive ecologists? You want to spend the rest of your life folding paper bags and steaming the labels off glassware? Be somebody! And, help Mother Earth at the same time.