In spite of a couple hard storms, we had many warm days during the winter. In February, for three successive Sundays, I drove to Seneca Rocks to enjoy some unseasonably good weather.
The first time, when I arrived at the parking lot, I was surprised to find not one single car besides my own. All the better, I thought. I’ll have the place to myself. The face of Seneca was gleaming in the sunset, and there was a half moon rising over the top.
Since it was getting late, I decided to try out the newly built trail up the front side, which doubles back all the way to the summit to make it “tourist easy.” As I ascended, I reflected that maybe my good fortune to have this outdoor treasure all to myself had something sinister behind it, something akin to the grim air pollution that lurks behind the pleasantness of global warming.
Indeed, a lack of involvement in nature will be followed quickly by a lack of respect for it. And it was Valentine’s Day, I noted. In this whole area, on this springlike day, were there not two lovers who had the thought: “Let’s climb Seneca Rocks and watch the sunset.”
The following Sunday was equally mild. It was also Presidents Day, with most people having Monday off, so I was even more surprised to find again not one car in the Seneca parking lot.
This time I took the old path that goes up the back side, a steeper and more wild ascent. I had found the front trail too soft and domesticated. The back climb was harder work, but it was worth the sweat. Resting on a rock or log at various elevations, looking down into the piney canyon below, one got the wild feeling of Maine or the Black Hills of South Dakota.
And one also got again that uneasy feeling about having such a view all to oneself. Don’t people go outside in the winter anymore?
The last day of February, another bright and warm Sunday, I was almost relieved to see a few cars in the Seneca lot. Looking over the license plates, however, I saw they were all from afar: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania. Probably a rock-climbing club getting an early start on the season. And some tourists. The climbers would be working with ropes and pulleys, and the tourists would be taking the soft path up the front, so again I would have the more wild path to myself.
But where were the local people?
I thought of the parallel to what is happening in Africa: how the lions, elephants, giraffes, etc., being taken for granted by the local populations, are destined to extinction, or at best to become preserve animals, with high fences demarcating their territory, into which one can travel in tourist buses, or, if rich, go on guided hunts for a high fee. And even these designated “wild areas” will get smaller and smaller against the insatiable demand for “development,” until the preserve becomes a park and the park finally a zoo, with the animals kept apart and fed by humans, until nothing is wild about them anymore.
The once-dark continent, Africa, is being transformed into something tame and banal, analogous to that path up the front of Seneca, with its wooden steps where the ascent is a little steep, and railings where the trail is narrow, and benches to rest on, and plaques describing geological features and plant life, and signposts saying: You are now one-fourth to the top, You are now halfway to the top, etc. Next will come water fountains and concession stands selling T-shirts saying: I went to the top of Seneca Rocks.
The vast majority of human beings are becoming terribly lazy, indoor creatures, tamer and tamer without any positive developments to compensate for the loss of vigor. Rarely do we venture outside, past our own back yards, except on well-made paths (and not even much on well-made paths). We seem to have lost the use of our legs from sitting too much.
But we are losing something even more important, something inside ourselves. We are becoming, as a human race, something akin to chickens (compared to their former glory, the pheasant) or cows or steers (compared to the buffalo).
A world become too indoor, too domesticated, is a listless world, and listlessness compounds into every possible corruption, from big fat bellies (we are the most overweight nation on the earth) to flat indifference to the destruction of the wild.
Use it or lose it, the old expression goes. Actually, given the power of momentum, it’s already lost.