Have you ever watched an old timer who is very good at what he or she does, just go about doing? There is a maturity of purpose and efficiency of movement; a neatness in habits. Their routine seems natural. Even though they no longer have the elasticity or quickness of step that the younger one does, they get it all done with fewer issues and perhaps more certainty.
When you see these qualities on the water there is no excess, no glamor, no compulsion for vanity; just the satisfaction of traveling well. Planning, preparation and practice have lead to what seems natural talent. They move through the water in a smooth, easy and deliberate way. These matured paddlers can be young or older but their movement speaks of experience. They make little fuss and don't distract the rest of us with noise or flashy colors. The patches, tears, mismatched straps and faded colors of their gear speak of adventure rather than catalogs.
Camp chores are natural too, as if they are part of a daily routine. Their camp is clutter free and their fire small if there is one at all. You will see their tents a little further back than usual. They pack less stuff and it's always stowed neatly and compactly; nothing gets lost. In the morning they are off and going, dry, well rested, well fed, and well ahead of the rest of us. If you stop at their campsite, it is hard to see they were even there. They have learned to satisfy their needs simply and simply enjoy the pleasures wild places offer.
In the last 25 years or so of my paddling and camping I have seen a dramatic growth in the use of wild places. One example is of camping near the most common put-in for the Apostle Island National Lake Shore sea caves. Back then we might see no one for days. Now there is a parking lot for about 50 cars, restrooms and a blacktop road to the site. When you arrive you better move quickly so as not to be in the way of others wanting to get to the beach. A National Park employee is on duty watching over everything. It gets chaotic, off and on the water. On a nice day the lot is full by 10:30 a.m.; not many old timers here. I've been doing more winter camping and paddling.
Those of us who use our very special wild places have a responsibility to respect the peace and nature of the area. We need to be well practiced in the discipline of leave-no-trace camping. We must respect others by disturbing them as little as possible so their visit is peaceful and rewarding. We have an obligation to protect each other's experiences in the wild. Patience at portages and boat landings, speaking in low tones, and using gear with less imposing colors when appropriate, all help insure that the wild place is wild for all. In politics they refer to plausible deny-ability, in the wild I call it "overlookability". If I can paddle past a campsite and easily overlook the fact that it is occupied, I feel my wild place,and that of all those who follow, is less intruded on.
In less than my lifetime the number of people in the United States has doubled. As numbers increase so do rules to keep the peace. Only by acting responsibly and courteously can we avoid more regulations and keep the freedoms we go to the wilderness for. Part of our planning must be about how we are going to make our passage. Will we have some of that old timers maturity of purpose? Will we learn to intrude on others less? Will we act consciously to preserve the qualities and freedoms that wilderness provides? Through respect for others and our natural wonders we will keep the wonder of it all, for all who long to wonder.
By Dan Renzoni 1-08 If you have reactions to this piece, please respond.