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Warning: I break for nature

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
July 11, 2001


Wilderness can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope. — Wallace Stegner

It's midsummer, and my dreams of open space are being realized. As you read this, I am in Oregon somewhere on the Rouge River, completely removed from the nightmare that is Southern California. No rolling blackouts to contend with, no myopic elected officials advocating for the construction of disposable buildings, and no where to be except where I am.

This nature break is long overdue. Last summer I was consumed with running for office and could not get away to take care of my frayed nerves. Perhaps that is why I finished out of the money. Who knows, maybe if I had made time to recharge my spiritual batteries in isolated wilderness, I'd have been better equipped to get the environmental sustainability message across to Encinitas voters. I won't make that mistake again.

It is my belief the reason Southern California is a mess is because the people who live here have so completely removed themselves from the natural world. Nowhere south of Camp Pendleton is nature left unmolested. Cement and asphalt is our answer for everything. Anything remotely wild is eradicated because it doesn't fit into the orderly esthetics of the civilized world.

Case in point, one of my neighbors is at war with wildlife. The man sprays poison to kill bugs as if they were a personal affront to his humanity. To keep birds out of his yard he has placed plastic predators in key spots to act as deterrence. As for small mammals, goddess only knows what he has planned for them if they are unlucky enough to trespass on his manicured lawn.

The rhythm we are forced to live by is not one prescribed by the elements, instead ours is the frantic pace dictated by the market place. More time is spent destroying the environment than enjoying it. As a commuter culture the time not spent in climate controlled buildings is spent behind the wheel in route to those aforementioned buildings. When the rhythm of life is drowned out by the hum of machines it's easy to forget the world beyond the box.

Spontaneity is not allowed because that would interfere with the routine of civilized life. So instead of losing ourselves in a wild space, exploring a world all but abandoned, we settle for an hour or two in a homogenized park, often requiring alcohol to enjoy even that brush with the elements. Personally I find most parks dreadfully sterile, as they lack any sense of place. Granted parks are a small refuge in a world of cement, even then all the rules of order still apply, with sidewalks always in view.

When we take to the river we leave the mundane world behind. Wild places challenge humans to accept how small they really are. Ask anyone who backpacks into the Sierras for weeks at a time about perspective and place. The works of John Muir are also a great place to get grounded. The sanest person I know is an avid mountain climber. Stoic like the mountains he interacts with, Jeff has a wisdom reserved only for those willing to climb beyond the pretense of entitlement.

Unlike Disneyland, Sea World, or the Zoo, wilderness vacations do not offer perfectly groomed family entertainment. No thrill rides, dancing dolphins, or Plexiglas barriers, the natural world demands the utmost interaction. A rafting trip does not last three and a half minutes. If attention is not paid, and respect given, any miscalculation can prove instantaneously fatal. The lack of the 911 option tends to make an individual more honest about his biological limitations.

Perhaps I require a wilderness break every year to remind myself of the healing power of time spent away from the rat race of modern America, and my own biological limitations. I know that when I return to the maddening crowds of San Diego County, I do so with a renewed commitment to save the world from the smart monkeys currently having there way with it. Before leaving on this trip I was hoping that an earthquake would reduce Encinitas to rubble so we could start over with less people. I'm better now.

I highly recommend people put down the Prozac, and just walk away from the stuff that is driving them crazy. Spending a week camped in a grove of redwoods, or two weeks hiking the Sierras, will do more for your battered spirit than anything western medicine can prescribe. An alpine meadow is so much nicer than a padded cell. Don't you think?

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