Sunday, September 5, 2010
Camping Trip, Part One
Each stroke of the paddles takes us farther away from the boat launch and its signs of civilization. We're heading into the "wilderness" and our favorite campsite on the northwest point of the reservoir. There are no camp site reservations here. Each camping trip starts with uncertainty and the tenuous hope that the camp site will be unoccupied. Today it looks like we are in luck. No boat nestles on the rocky shore. Still, we do not celebrate yet. There is a strange glint from the site. Maybe a tent is set up there and the campers are out for an early morning fishing trip. We notice that the vegetation along the camp entrance seems prematurely brown.
As we pull up to the shore, we can see that there is no tent sent up, but that the glint is from a charcoal grill some previous occupant has left there. Immediately, we see that the vegetation along the shore is brown because it has been cut. Once, birch trees girded this entryway. They are gone now and it seems someone is intent on opening up the camp site entrance to a full view of Pico Mountain to the east. We land the canoe and walk up the littered path. We see that the grill is brand new, not a spot of rust on it. We see that brush has been cut and piled here and there throughout the site.
I spy a pile of freshly dug earth in front of the spot where we pitch the tent. A row of the protruding tops of boulders line the path to that spot, the last one having always caused us some amount of adjusting in how we would position the tent. It seems the recent occupants had no patience for that rock. A deep trench was built all the way around it and fresh cut logs were positioned in a lever system to lift a 4' by 4' boulder out of the ground. The job was far from finished, but it was not abandoned. I'm thinking that the large trench is a lot less appealing than the rock.
As we look more around the site, our shock does not diminish. Trees all around have been cut--some at ground level, but many leaving two and three foot high stumps. Branches are strewn helter-skelter--their brown, dead leaves and twisty twigs spreading across trodden ground. Drifts of alpine grass lie flattened and trampled. A site that could accommodate two small tents at most is now expanded to hold five or six.
Last year, we had dug two feet of ashes out of the fire place that has served that site for some eighty years. We carefully rebuilt its circle of rock. Now it is in ruins, with rocks pushed into the center and piles of broken glass bottles, paper garbage, and an odd assortment of metal brackets and heavy wires.
A profound sadness settles upon us. A once nearly pristine sliver of wilderness has been hacked and widened, trampled and slashed. It is as though a brutal murder has been carried out in the space of the month since our last visit. As we began the hours of clean up with heavy hearts, feelings progressed to outrage. Who could do this? Who travels to a distant mountain pool rimmed with dense forest and rocky shore to rearrange what nature had left there? This is a place where silent kayaks and canoes glide by not even disturbing the deer or occasional moose along the shore. This is a place where bullfrogs boast loudly in the spring. Loons nest across the way. Snapping turtles, beaver, otter, ducks have all swum by. An eagle made a brief appearance. Our entertainment has come from chipmunks scurrying in the woods, cedar waxwings darting around the beech trees, a thrush belting out its lovely tune, the antics of a flying squirrel after dark. Not enough for some, since the evidence shows us that recently fireworks were needed to drown out the sounds of earth at its rest.
Primitive camping is not for everyone, but we enjoy a few days spent walking so gently on the green earth. We take pride in leaving nothing behind--not even footprints. We return to our home renewed and refreshed. This time, though, we also return with a sense of violation that is almost as strong as a physical assault. If it takes time and tears to heal such a wound, we have left our tears on the betrayed ground in hopes that time will heal it.