Tag Archives: outdoors

Review: On the Trail: A History of American Hiking

On the Trail: A History of American HikingOn the Trail: A History of American Hiking by Silas Chamberlin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first started hiking as a kid with my family and later as a boy scout, I never gave much thought to how trails were made or who made them. Even as a teenager and then as a young adult, I had some vague sense that these trails were probably created by the CCC half a century ago. It wasn’t until I joined a local trail organization myself and started working to maintain and build new trails that I began to understand the sheer amount of man-hours (person-hours?) that go into keeping the trails open and enjoyable.

“On the Trail” describes the evolution of trail walking and hiking, from its inception of nature and rural graveyard strolls to organized clubs to the current incarnation of largely solo and ad hoc group hiking. Chamberlin’s history focuses on a few key groups and areas, such as the Dartmouth Outing Club, the Sierra Club, the Appalachian Trail, and (briefly) the Pacific Crest Trail, though many other organizations and trails get some coverage. His work nicely bridges the gap that seems to exist in outdoors-nature writing, which often goes “Thoreau > present.”

If you’re a hiker, backpacker, or outdoors enthusiast, this is a book I’ll happily recommend. It’ll give you something interesting to contemplate or discuss while you’re out on the trail yourself and make you wonder: “who built the trail I’m on now? Who takes care of it?” It might even make you feel inspired to get involved in a local trail organization of your own; always a good thing! Certainly, I felt a sense of vindication and pleasure knowing that I’ve shifted my hiking style from “net consumer” of trails to “net producer” (terms that Chamberlin uses to describe the shift).

If you don’t see what all the fuss is about when it comes to the outdoors or if your sense of what hiking should be is largely associated with forced family gatherings that are to be endured rather than enjoyed, there’s nothing here that’s going to make you want to strap on a pair of boots. But that’s okay, because this book is really aimed at the crowd of hikers who like to go out, enjoy the woods, but maybe haven’t thought too much more about how they can give back to their hobby. If nothing else, it’ll make you appreciate how much work went into, and still goes into, created all the paths we enjoy.

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Review: Encounters with the Archdruid

Encounters with the ArchdruidEncounters with the Archdruid by John McPhee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a time capsule for the environmentalist. It’s a fossil. It’s a treasure.

“Encounters with the Archdruid” takes us back to 1970. The Environmental Protection Agency will be born this year. Climate change isn’t yet in the environmentalist’s lexicon; even its forerunner, “the greenhouse effect” is still a decade away from being a talking point. The greatest scourges are hydroelectric dams, mining, and housing developments. You can drink from the Colorado River, untreated, without worrying about giardia. The American southwest is still largely a remote backwater, with none of the explosive growth that it will see in the 80s and 90s.

It’s an entirely different world.

John McPhee writes about three different narratives with David Brower, the famous conservationist and former Sierra Club director. Part travelogue, part dialogue, McPhee captures the experiences and conversations as Brower explores different wilderness areas with men who are, quite possibly, his archenemies: a mineral engineer advocating for a copper mine, a developer who purchased a mostly pristine Atlantic island, and the Director of the Bureau of Reclamation who wants to build dams where ever dams can be built.

The discussions themselves are interesting and thought-provoking; should we aspire to be conservationists, who manage land wisely and responsibly, or preservationists, who leave the land alone entirely? Brower is firmly the latter, the other men the former, and in a supreme display of narrator neutrality, we never find out which camp McPhee falls into.

The fact that they’re able to go on these trips at all and argue while hiking or rafting before throwing back a beer shows that it was a different time. The things that Brower rails against, hydroelectric dams being his biggest bugbear, now seem quaint when we face the threat of global climate change and dams represent a cleaner, carbon neutral power source compared to fossil fuels.

And yet, though the book shows its age, it’s a marvelous look back, a tantalizing reminder of what was. It’s fascinating to look back on the thoughts, hopes, and fears from those in 1970 from my moment of time, here and now in 2017. Even if 2017 and the near future look horrifically bleak for the environment, far more grim than anything Brower could have imaginaged in 1970.

Regardless, this book is a gem. As a way of looking back at where we’ve come in the hopes of understand where we’re going, I would consider this book a must-read for anyone interested in the natural world and the environment.

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Leave Only Footprints, Take Only Pictures . . . And Here’s A $1000 Fine For Doing So

I know that it’s silly to assign values of good and evil to various government agencies, but I swear, sometimes those agencies really go out of their way to make you decide. And no, I’m not talking about the NSA who seem to actively delight in seeming evil and are probably reading this blog post right now. No, today my ire is directed at the U. S. Forest Service due to their new plan to charge a $1000 fine for taking pictures in a Federal Wilderness without a permit.

Don’t worry, though. The permits are a bargain: only $1500. I’m certain that won’t affect any student filmmakers or struggling photographers or, really, anyone else who might be operating on a tight budget. Hell, I’ve got $1500 in my back pocket right now.

Forest Service spokesperson Larry Chambers told the Oregonian that permits will cost up to $1,500, and those caught so much as taking an iPhone photo without clearance will be fined $1,000. Liz Close, the Forest Service’s acting wilderness director, told the Oregonian that the restrictions are following the Wilderness Act of 1964, which is meant to preserve the untamed character of the wilderness and prevent it from being used for commercial gain.

So, that sucks. But it gets even better worse!

The Forest Service would make exceptions for breaking news that “arises suddenly, evolves quickly, and rapidly ceases to be newsworthy.”

Beyond the media, the rule would apply to anyone who might use the photos or video to make money while in a wilderness area, be it a documentary film crew, nonprofit, or private citizen.

Sure, you could argue that it’s “only” recognized wilderness areas and not actually “all of nature.” On the other hand, I’m willing to bet that most people have no idea whether the outdoorsy area they’re in at any given moment is considered a wilderness area or not. And speaking as someone who does usually know and has a particular favorite wilderness area, the idea that it’s a finable offense is infuriating!

Oh, but the permit is only required for pictures used for commercial purposes, you say? Well, that should fucking solve it for everyone, won’t it. Wait, is this blog a commercial purpose? Is my picture of a creek that I took four years ago indicative of a violation? I don’t actually make any money doing this blog, but I’m also working on publishing a book, so there’s a very real chance that in a year or so this blog will have a commercial purpose. What happens then?

(Actually, it still wouldn’t be a violation since I took that picture in a State Park, but would you know that by looking at it?)

Maybe I’m overreacting. Certainly, we can trust the Forest Service agency not to abuse this authority to go after people for taking pictures of trees or . . .

I’m sorry, I can’t even manage good sarcasm right now. This is well and truly a shitty thing. We come full circle to my earlier assessment: the Forest Service is evil.

For what it’s worth, I consider the Parks Service to be their good counterpart. So there’s that.