Written by: Craig Buckley
“When all the world recognizes beauty as beauty, this in itself is ugliness.” – Lao Tzu
Show me a map to the Tomb of Backpacking. I would like to go there. I imagine it to be in the deep woods, over rocks and roots, through rivers wide and over mountains tall. I see in my mind’s eye a monolith to scrape the clouds from the rim of the sky, declaring to the young, “Here lies Backpacking: Perfect Master Teacher, Friend of the Lonely, Destroyer of Illusion.” I bend to find a date on the massive stone and find naught but a door, inset below the carvings of the faces of the memorial: Thoreau and Whitman, Snyder and Kerouac, Muir and Abbey peeking out from their death masks. I do not pause to look into their stone eyes but open the door and find that it swings easily into the dank depths of the tomb. And what do I see inside but the cracking cocoon of Backpacking Rising.
The point of this meditation is not to reinterpret statistics to fit any preconceived thesis I might have. Nor is it to argue with Christopher Ketchum, author of the article “The Death of Backpacking?” (http://www.hcn.org/issues/46.12/the-death-of-backpacking). I see well enough the question mark at the end of that title and realize that it should not be read as a eulogy but as a conversation piece. The point of this meditation is not to lament the death of the old or to hold up a corpse of an idea and make it dance for the audience as if it were still animate. I simply wish to point out that death is not the end.
The leaves fall, rot, and feed the earth underfoot. The tree itself cracks, splits from its roots, crushes other trees and these in turn renew the forest. Water boils away, forms vapor, forms clouds, and rains down once again on our heads. I belabor the point: Energy cannot be destroyed. When I hear someone tell me that something I love is dying, I am at first taken aback at their presumptuousness in telling me the future of an age they have not lived and, secondly, I smile.
The rushing river is the death of the stagnant lake.
I see no death in the world but rather metamorphosis of life. And I see Backpacking change before my eyes. I see faster, lighter, with less impact on the trail. I see new ways of solving old problems. I see minds coming together.
And, yes, I see distraction from the trail beneath our feet. I see boys and girls that would rather watch Planet Earth than live under the stars in the forests with the fellow creatures of planet Earth. I see those to whom a hike needs a destination with a pay-off and wonder when they’ll start charging for the views. But I also know that we as humans are an unruly species. There will come a day, and quickly, when the children will throw down their toys in search of Something Bigger and they will be lead quickly by their wits to old Mother Nature. Their boots will knock off the dust on her coffin and she shall sing again.
The secret, of course, is that she never stopped her song in the first place. If less people choose to listen, so be it. It wouldn’t be the first time she was ignored. It takes time to interpret the long notes and it takes long miles of walking to catch a scent of her perfume. Ketchum mentions the Herd as a metaphor for consumer culture that lauds impatience and one-and-done thrill-seeking as marketable in today’s society because of a lack of focus in the youth of today. I want only to warn those that would classify my brothers and sisters as sheep that you have not caught all of us in the net of your reality grid. We are the goats in the ridges, too busy hiking and rambling in the trees to hear when the shepherd calls. If you would like to write an Ode to Backpacking Forgotten, please do so. And make it beautiful. But don’t for a second think that words can kill the human drive for meaningful experience.
See you in the woods.