Another season of introspection and reflection.
I posted recently on Joe Kinder's site, regarding use of the forest and the crags, and the hypocrisy inherent in most of the dogma espoused and rebukes offered by the climbing community, their advocates, and the publications that manipulate and inform them.
I left the forum with the three tenets of respecting the forest, respecting the stone, and respecting the authors of the routes that brought them there in the first place. I'm sure the last two rang true, but in light of the fact that I was defending "gardening" two saplings out of a crack in Lake Tahoe, as well as the host of activities related to new route development which go on at every new crag, my admonition to respect the forest may well have been received with some amusement or confusion.
The point is simple- we now confuse "conservation" with "preservation", and we believe that a one hundred dollar membership and a bumper sticker erases all our environmental sins. Respecting the forest is staying on the trail, keeping your dog on a leash to prevent it from chasing game or digging or crapping next to waterways, and understanding that the forest grows and dies in an endless cycle. When climbers return to a remote crag after a long winter, and brush the debris from holds and ledges, they have just disrupted the cycle of soil distribution, seeding, and growth that is intrinsic in a forest setting. When you burn natural gas propane cylinders in your camp stove, you are in all likelihood supporting fracking, even if indirectly.
So judging Joe for two saplings is literally missing the forest for the trees.
Climbers and most of the other avowed "green" outdoors enthusiasts are too often the people who scream about logging and then chant the mantra of "It's good for the forest" whenever the first plume rises from a forest fire that will burn homes, dislocate wildlife and open new ground to a host of invasive species.
They will march and make angry emails and phone calls to stop the construction of wind turbines on the off chance that one endangered bat might be killed in one hundred years of operation, when those same bats are being killed by the dozens as they fly into high-tension lines and pylons that carry power to the computers on which the emails are typed.
And they will create more impact with a tidal wave of Internet responses to two saplings being removed from some crack in Lake Tahoe than the actual event on which they are commenting.
The splinter in thy brother's eye is not so large as the beam in thine own...
And I am just as bad as the rest of the high-impact creatures with whom I share the planet. I don't live in a cave, weaving my own clothes from hemp and eating seasonally-harvested local foods. I don't have a solar-powered yurt with geothermal heat, and I don't drive an electric or bio-deisel vehicle. I eat imported foods and buy imported goods and watch electronica for hours out of sheer boredom, when visiting friends who own those toys, who choose that lifestyle.
In other words, I don't preach about environmentalism without a voice in the back of my head telling me just how much of my own message is hypocrisy.
And I live a life accordingly spartan- no wide-screen cable TV, no massive stereo, just two chairs and a table, several boxes of books, a laptop, a camera, camping and climbing gear for two, clothing for just about any season and a truck to haul it in. If you choose to have more, good on you- it is always a personal choice, and I respect your rights even if I disagree entirely with your choices, or make other choices for my own life.
I see the paradox of my disenchantment; that I keep putting up routes and building obvious trails leading to them and railing against the inevitable hordes of clueless strangers who come to take those things for granted. I was raised in an age when those who came before spoke out and their opinions and judgments were respected. I have pounded my head against this wall for as long as I have been climbing, because the burden of education was passed down to us from gnarly old curmudgeons up in the mountains of Britain, in the Himalaya, in the Rockies, and on the soaring walls of El Cap. The pioneers never worried about popularity, or stepping on someone's toes, or some group of wankers on an Internet forum judging them for lines they would, in all likelihood, never see. I'm no Bridewell, no John Long or Billy Westbay, nor am I one-tenth the climber that the icons who shaped my attitudes were on their worst day.
But I am eternally marching toward that unreachable goal.
And I am learning, if slowly.
Some days I rage, some days I laugh.
And some days, I type.
These lands are ours. We need to be involved with them, to use them and try to preserve them without losing sight of our inevitable effect on them and connection to them. We need to see the forest with a clear perspective, instead of through the rosy glasses of Leave No Trace and the pollyanna oblivion of our climbing advocates, who create new impact with every membership drive, and then spend the rest of year wringing their hands and begging for money to address impact and inform all the people who just don't understand.
We need to point out the inherent contradiction between a public lands bureaucracy that censures climbers for the negligible impact of stainless steel bolts while foreign companies devastate hundreds of square miles of sacred Native lands and historical landmarks. and we need to understand that our government does nothing because American companies are doing exactly the same thing on every continent in the world.
In much the same way that climbers have done and will continue to do the same things- scraping, pruning, clearing loose rock and dirt- for as long as there is climbing, where ever it may be.
Respecting the forest isn't preserving it in a museum-like state- it is far too late for that, by a century or three. It is understanding that we need wind turbines to stop destroying mountains covered with forests to get at the coal underneath of them. It's understanding and accepting that if you are not a consumer, you are a resource, and that, in the end, we are all consumers, and the connections between our consumption and the true conservation of the forests and wild places is far more wide-reaching than we like to remember.
Climbers may whine and gripe, judge and spew about environmental sins, but they are not leaving the crags in protest to join gyms, forever renouncing the impact of outdoor climbing.
So saplings will be gardened out of cracks, tree limbs will be pruned back, trails will be laid off and wildlife will get disturbed and be displaced. Ideas that are good for us all may kill a dozen endangered bats in a century. Elk in Alaska may have to learn to live near oil rigs. I take responsibility for the resultant impact from every route I climb and share with the public, and for the impact my life has outside of climbing.
For me, respect for this world is defined as, whenever possible, using only what I need, from the best sources in terms of renewability and impact, not just the most convenient. It is staying informed and alert and active about the issues, and informing others, even if they don't always want to be informed, even if it makes a lot of folks think of me as an asshole. It is seeing how so many things inter-relate, and trying to stay consistent in my vision and my practices.
It's tough, I know- you just wanna go crank some routes, man. You never signed up for this forest crag stewardship thing. You pay your dues in the AF and the WWF and you even went to a conference in D.C. with the local AAC chapter. You're not some fanatical climber, you just enjoy getting out and getting some exercise. Just mastering that whole "How to shit in the woods" thing was enough... now you have to worry about all of this?
If you are an older climber, an experienced survivor, you just want to have some fun, not spend your days lecturing noobs, fixing trail and picking up trash.
Sorry... Life is mostly a series of revelations about responsibilities you never knew you had, without notice or explanation.
If climbing is going to survive and grow in the outside world, the dialogue and the dynamic has to change. Our definitions of acceptable and realistic impact, the way we address that impact and the fights we have over that impact have to change.
How climbers handle that change will determine the level of respect they are given by their government, by the old guard, and by the next generation.