I authored this piece on Lake Powell. pessimism, optimism and the age of climate change…
We hike almost every single morning. Like a prayer, we rise, eat lightly and hustle up the switchbacks of the trails that curl into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains just beyond our house. The south-facing trails are dry and bathed in sunlight. The soil is fragrant with thaw: the scent of rain even on a cloudless day. The trails not yet blessed with enough spring sun to break free of winter are icy, snow-packed, chilly and infused with the liminal scent of ice and pine. There are no flowers yet. I don’t see any of the birds that I associate with spring. Not up high. Not yet. Wind buffets the sage. Some mornings, swift snow squalls grasp at us while we hike, then release and move down into the piñon and juniper valleys below. Other mornings we’ve been in full sun. But it isn’t really spring yet. The highest points in New Mexico, within sight to both the north and south, are heavy with snow pack. It is, the in between time when things are unclear and boundaries ill-defined.
We are on week three now of social distancing. Lock down. Our family anticipated the severity of COVID19 and prepared early. We have three kids, all now getting home schooled; the daily hikes our main source of exercise, fresh air and mental health.
Suddenly, the very large world to which we’ve become accustomed feels very small indeed and very limited – and yet at the same time all the more fascinating and expansive. My mind struggles to grasp these two very different things.
(Check out: Covid19 Comes to Taos, New Mexico)
My wife and I have both travelled extensively in our lives. Being out in the world, on the road, is part of who we are. Exploration, new places, new experiences, being on the move…it is fundamental to what we are. And now we are in a lockdown, an indefinite lockdown. Stay home? Home. The mental and emotional struggle manifests in my body like a rope stretched to the limits. If we are supposed to stay home, what does that mean?
What is home?
Our family hikes religiously, even in the good times. We always have. We are avid users of public lands for hiking, biking, camping, backpacking, wildlife watching, photography. This is what we do. And because we use public lands managed by the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service, we actively participate in the protection of these lands. To a certain extent, and for right or for wrong, I feel a sense of entitlement when it comes to our public lands. My greatest fear during this time of COVID19 is a closure of public lands.
At the trailheads to the paths we typically use we’ve seen an influx of cars from other states, particularly Texas and Colorado. From my friends around the West I’m starting to hear the same thing. People on lockdown are leaving their towns to recreate in other states. Moab is crushed with tourists, Oregonians are cramming campgrounds in northern California, and communities along the edges of Arizona’s National Parks are closing stores, in part to keep tourists out. Sun Valley, Idaho is telling people: ‘Don’t Come Here’. Some Coloradoans seem to think they can go wherever they want and our little tourist town of Taos, New Mexico is cancelling everything and begging people not to come.
So, what is home?
When I hear “shelter in place” I hear “shelter here, shelter in this place”. Stay in this landscape. What we’ve decided is that our surrounding 30 miles or so is home. We won’t be visiting other towns. We won’t be impinging on trail heads in other communities. And we won’t even be using the most popular trails here. We will stay within the Carson National Forest. Stay within El Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. This landscape. This backyard. This home.
I’m struggling to accept the fact that everything we know and understand about the world will fundamentally change over the coming months. Some people get this. Most people do not. But they will, eventually. My mind is grappling with the paradigm shift about to take place. Thanks to COVID19 I’ve had to put off for at least a year a major travel project I’ve been prepping for since early 2019. I don’t know what is going to happen with the Cuba photography workshop this year. Or next. I cannot wait to get back out in the larger world. I will. But for now traveling away from home would be wrong. Immoral. Unethical. Dangerous, even.
And so we will stay home. Stay within our 30 miles or so. Hike here. Home. Our public lands are priceless. We under value them. And we see now just how important they are to the American people. There has never been a more important time for people to honor these lands. Honor what they stand for and don’t abuse the gift of these lands.
Friday morning, from the high cliff’s edge overlooking Taos Valley (the spot where I asked my wife to marry me) I stepped away from the family for a moment. I listened for the Rio Fernando far down below. Sometimes the gurgle of the creek in spring melt carries hundreds of feet up along the slopes and cliffs and you can hear it much farther away than you think possible. That morning, however, the wind scattered the sound to the far corners. Down slope two ravens caught a thermal and played in lazy circles. The Ponderosa pine, the piñon, the juniper blanketed the land in a way that brought me ease, buying me a moment from the soul-crushing death counts that awaited us when we looked at the internet again. West, on the mesa and towards the Tusas Mountains snow squalls teased from a rim of gray in virga curtains that momentarily obscured the land beyond. The world rolled out large before me. Larger, perhaps, that it has ever felt – and more enticing, than, perhaps, ever.
What is home? Here is home. This place. This land. Right now, be as local as you can. Be home.