Use & Abuse

Use & Abuse
Two hikers make their way along the Eagle Creek trail near Tunnel Falls. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0
Two hikers make their way along the Eagle Creek trail near Tunnel Falls. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0

My perfect hiking trail is isolated and untouched. It is well-maintained yet offers rugged challenge to my body and my wits. The consummate trail is a secret which few journey. My favorite trail offers unique natural geology, wildlife, and vegetation. It offers enough danger to periodically elevate my adrenaline levels but is safe enough to keep my wife from worrying about me.

The Pacific Northwest is brimming with all of the requirements for my too-good-to-be-true trail. Though they don’t come together on one trail, the cumulative effect of hiking the coastal, mountain, desert, and, of course, the Columbia River Gorge provides me with Utopia.

I guess this is why I was so surprised by the condition of the Eagle Creek trail west of Cascade Locks. The trail is known for remarkable natural and human created beauty but it also shows signs of use and abuse.

Some of the conditions along the trail relate to its popularity and proximity to a large metropolitan area. (I recently hiked it on a Wednesday morning and encountered over one-hundred others in my 5-1/2 hour journey.) The substantial traffic on the trail, particularly on weekends, shows in its widening footprint and  the densely packed surface.

These small ways in which use shows cannot be avoided but the trail also shows signs

Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0
One-Two Punch. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0

of abuse. Two side by side trees have lost bark and been subjected to graffiti reminiscent of an urban underpass or the freight cars that travel the rails along the Columbia River. A fallen tree in the basin near Punchbowl Falls, likewise, has been abused. The unsanctioned shortcuts and side trails also reflect this misuse.

Despite the magnificence of the multiple waterfalls, the high trail through the the Eagle Creek canyon suffers from unnecessary damage. I don’t know why; I rarely see abuse on the other less-used trails I hike. Most hikers I encounter are diligent in their stewardship of the gift with which those of us in the Pacific Northwest have been blessed.

Maybe my ninth grade Citizenship teacher was right. Increasing world population is unsustainable. Maybe the abusive relationship hikers have with the Eagle Creek trail hints at the sociology of population growth.

Abuse. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0
Abuse. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0

Consider that the human population that journeys and harms this trail is but a microcosm of our relationship with the planet. As our numbers increase we feel bigger and more important than the vast ecosystem that encompasses us. Our attitude becomes more arrogant and human-focused. Nature becomes our playground rather than sacred ground.

Is not this the flaw in our thinking that has led us to detrimental climate change? As Earth’s population climbs, we no longer see ourselves as part of nature. Collectively, we cease to perceive our vulnerability.

Forgetting our smallness and membership within creation, our self image (self importance?) grows bigger and our humble vulnerability diminishes. We ignore our connectedness to nature and forget the divine command to be good stewards (Genesis 1:26).

Once we are psychologically disconnected from Mother Earth, it becomes easy to carve our names in a tree or destroy ground vegetation beside the creek, rarely thinking about the impact of erosion when we go off trail. We’re just one person we tell ourselves. No harm from me. Except, of course, we are not one but one-hundred on a weekday and three times that on a sunny Saturday.

Likewise we burn fossil fuels because we’re just one person. No harm from me. I am

Unsanctioned Erosion. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0
Unsanctioned Erosion. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0

just one except, of course, we are more than seven billion.

It has become easy because we’ve forgotten that we are kindred to the tree, the grasses, insects, and animals. We’ve forgotten that nature is our sister, brother, father, and mother.

Of course, neither forgetfulness or denial of our place within the earth is an excuse. Every hiker along the trail and each human on the planet is called by the divine interconnectedness to break with the hive mind of overpopulation. We can and must take personal and collective responsibility for the abuse we’ve inflicted.

Eagle Creek Canyon and Mother Gaia cry out in pain from our use and abuse. Will we provide the balm they need?


View additional photos and see a video of the human-created tunnel behind Tunnel Falls on Flickr.

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Pretending Global Warming is Undecided is Irresponsible

Originally posted 2/7/07; reposted 2/18/07

I did my morning round of newspapers online this morning and discovered a new online poll on my local paper’s website. I found myself feeling quite aggravated and composed and submitted the following letter to the editor of the Wheeling News-Register/Intelligencer.

The tone of this newspaper’s coverage of the very real threat posed by global warming–including the recent poll asking if this cold snap changes people’s opinion about climate change–is irresponsible. Scientists from around the world have determined that the documented increase in Earth’s temperatures is 90% likely caused by the actions of human beings. A cold snap doesn’t change the reality of global warming or the impact climate change is having and will have.

What we need from our leaders is a cohesive and comprehensive plan to address our reliance on a lifestyle that continues to damage our planet. This plan must include not only long term methods of responding (e.g.; implementation of clean mass transit or concrete ways to help people switch to renewable energies to heat and cool our homes) but specific strategies that everyone can participate in immediately (e.g.; adjust our thermostats, stop using disposable products).

This newspaper can immediately talk to experts and publish in a practical, readable format ways in which each one of us can lessen our “carbon footprint”. This newspaper can investigate and report—not simply repeat the self-serving answers of politicians and executives–what the impact of any proposed action will be on the climate of our world.

In short, this newspaper has the ability to responsibly inform and educate and improve the life of our community and the world. Or, you can simply focus on making a buck.

Will we wait until West Virginia is a coastal state?

Originally posted 1/18/07 reposted 2/18/07

My wife and I were in England for two weeks over the holidays visiting our daughter who is working on a visa in rural Hampshire. This was our first trip overseas.

I love newspapers and was thrilled to be able to read paper copies of the Times of London and the Guardian among others. One of the biggest differences between the discussions in the US and the UK media is the way in which the issue of global warming is framed. In England even the more conservative papers and columnists seemed to be asking : “Are we doing enough to combat climate change?” Contrast this with the poll in my local West Virginia paper that asked whether people believed in global warming or not. In the United States we seem to be arguing about whether or not there is a problem as the ice caps melt while in Britain they have at least accepted the scientific reality of climate change.

Another difference that I noticed, that relates to climate change, is the mass transit in the UK compared to the US. We spent two weeks in England and traveled by bus, subway, train, and the occasional taxi. Only a couple of times–when we were forced to pay the high price of the taxis–did we regret not having a private automobile. The trains were spotless and full of passengers. Even the subway in London was clean and comfortable. Yet, the locals told us that the trains were terribly inferior to the rest of Europe. I guess the Brits should meet Amtrak to fully appreciate what they have.

A third difference is the size of the cars that they do drive. I saw precious few SUVs and those that I did see were small by American standards. I saw cars two sizes smaller than the smallest cars that the very same global corporations (Ford, Hyundai, Daimler-Chrysler, Toyota, etc.) offer to consumers in this country. When only one person is in a car, do we really need the bulk that we drive around in?

Perhaps, the British are more sensitive to climate change because global warming may very well cover the isles completely but will we wait until West Virginia has oceanfront properties before we admit the magnitude of the problem?