“A butterfly landed on my bare foot and as we were looking at it, a lady came up, obviously disturbed. She looked down, exclaiming, ‘You have a butterfly on your foot!’
“Not sure how to take this outburst, I looked down at it, looked back and her and replied, ‘Yes.’ I didn’t know where to go from there.
“She, still staring in horror at it, said, ‘You should be careful. It might inject something in you!’
“I was pretty much dumbfounded. I racked my brain to figure out how to respond and tried to keep my eyes diverted. I caught [my climbing partner] smirking next to me.
All I could figure to do was move the terrible butterfly from my ankle…” – my journal entry from July 24, 2011, in Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park
There really are people this far removed from nature. With the understanding they have of the outdoors, they might as well be our ancestors, superstitious about everything new to them.
Approaching life from a nearly polar opposite perspective, it took me a while of contemplation to understand how anyone could be so lacking in understanding.
It seemed that the difference between these people and me was simply exposure.
I grew up in a wild part of Florida, was hauled around the country its backwoods from a child and continued it through adulthood. It was easy for me to be comfortable outside.
But many, many others don’t have that kind of upbringing and so they miss out on the connection with wild places. This not only hurts them (science has shown wilderness time helps us in many ways), it hurts all of us by affecting everything from how individuals tread the land (e.g. littering) to environmental policy and having enough people out there to vote on it.
This is why humans need national parks and wild spaces and why we shouldn’t be upset that we’re seeing more people in those places than ever before. Yes, there are people who don’t understand how to use those public wildlands appropriately, and those who have no idea what LNT stands for. But did you start out with full comprehension of how to treat the land?
People need to experience something in order to understand it.
People need to understand something in order to love it.
And finally, when something is loved, it is protected.
Celebrate that people are getting into wilderness places; don’t pass judgment. Of course, when there is a blatant misuse of the land, we need to speak up. But most are not out there intentionally hurting the places they are trying to enjoy. Most are simply new to this; they’re experiencing it all without our depth of understanding.
As Outdoor Women’s Alliance writer Grace Lindsey said in her article Shadow of Half Dome: Yosemite’s Burden, a thought which can be applied across the board: “We need Yosemite. It — and the national park system as a whole — is a vehicle that brings people and the wild together.”
So be gentle. We each come to those lands from different levels of understanding, and it’s only by getting out — and helping all people feel like they belong there, too — that people grow into their place as an environmental steward.