Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Seeking Authenticity in the Natural Experience

There weren't too many mountain bikers around in my time on the Uncompahgre Plateau, near Montrose, CO. First there was muzzle-loading rifle season, and then the archery season. I do feel a little nervous riding my bike with hunters around, but I make the best of it by wearing a flaming bicycle vest. I even got a bright orange safety vest for my dog.

There is something admirable about the bow-hunters, something atavistic, noble, and honest. And quiet. One day a bow-hunter came by my dispersed campsite. I took an instant like to him, and my dog immediately charmed his socks off.  Normally, when I converse, it seems as though it is my job to keep the conversation alive, for the simple reason that the blockhead can't think of anything to discuss, other than 'where ya frum?'

But in this case, I let him do 90% of the talking. He was raised on a real ranch as a boy. He spent some time as a professional hunting guide. He has hunted in Idaho, Montana, and Alaska. And oh my goodness, he had great stories about close calls when cleaning a carcass, with a bear smelling it and circling around. And the one about being trapped between wolves. On and on the stories went. I just sat there and soaked it up. 

He took out his 9 mm semi-automatic pistol, removed the magazine, and let me play with it. This is his personal protection device against mountain lions and black bears. I had just told him about coming within 100 feet of a large adult black bear, a few days earlier. And my stupid dog went after the bear! But the bear ran so fast (and so noisily) through the sapling aspen forest, that she gave up in 5 seconds, and returned unhurt.

When I finally walked back to my trailer, it was the middle of the afternoon. I had been listening to him for 4 or 5 hours. It was an impressive reminder of Man as a Hunter/Gatherer, and the oral tradition of 'swapping lies' around the campfire. There are few examples where male foolishness is more charming. Ultimately it was responsible for the epic and legendary poems and tales that began the tribal literature of many peoples.
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In a few days it was time to declare victory for my stay on the un-touristy Uncompahgre Plateau, and drive past a very touristy area, especially at this time of year: the periphery of the San Juan Mountains between Ridgway and Telluride, CO. The leaf-peepers were certainly out in full force, and rightly so, considering the yellow-blazing aspens. They would pull over at the official 'scenic overlooks', walk as far as 10 feet from their motor vehicle, hold up their smartphone, and snap-away at the breathtakingly beautiful scenery.

Although I probably appreciate the scenery as much as any of them, I didn't even bother with photographs. It is not a negative statement about scenery to acknowledge that the buzz starts fading away after just a few minutes.

At any rate an outdoor or 'nature experience', like they were having, does not inspire me. It's not wrong, it's just shallow.
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On to Dolores CO, one of my little sweethearts on the annual loop through the Southwest. For the first time since the Fourth of July I was in ponderosa forests again. Even better, the parent rock was sandstone. Sheer bliss it was to mountain bike on packed and troughed dirt trails, with few rocks and roots.

Last year I wondered how many zillion miles of non-technical trails you could have on flatter, non-touristy areas in the West. It would not cost a lot, and it would benefit small towns with weak economies. What is blocking this, other than a lack of appreciation of smooth trails on non-touristy land?

'Non-touristy scenery' does not mean 'boring.' Rivers, wildlife, no fees, no restrictions against horses or dogs, beautiful spacious forests, grass, colorful oak bushes, a perfect altitude and sky... and yet there are no tourists holding out their smartphones here. Real land has balance.

6 comments:

  1. A comment on just one item in your post:
    Bow hunting is the worst form of hunting. Sure it sounds romantic and "old school". The problem is that bow hunters typically can't make a clean kill and the animal (other than maybe birds) either dies after a long period of suffering or, more commonly, lives and suffers for a longer period of time. I've talked to three major butchers of wild game in Northern Idaho and they've all told me the same thing. They commonly find arrowheads embedded in the animals they work on. They often damage their butcher knives when they hit the arrowheads. Of course, every bow hunter will tell you that they are deadly lethal and never fail to make a clean, quick kill, bit that's just bullshit. A 30-06 rifle with a scope gives just about any hunter a fast, efficient way to kill anything large in the most humane way.

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    1. Ahh geez, why did you have to ruin it for me? OK your point is well-taken about bow-hunting at the MARGIN of what the archer is capable of.

      But a 30-06 rifleman will also shoot at his margin of competence, and also wound animals, painfully. The distance is greater, that is all.

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  2. Hard to miss with a 30-06 and a scope. Everything looks really close through that scope. Of course, there are idiots who take pot shots with a rifle and only wound an animal, but bow hunting is so difficult that the odds are so much higher of wounding rather than killing a large animal. Even if you are a competent bow hunter.

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    1. But the 30-06 was not sacred to the Native Americans, as the bow and arrow were. And, as we all know, the Native American was morally perfect and lived in harmony with nature. (grin)

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  3. Hi kaBLOOnie,

    I have to second what John V says about bow hunting: it is the worst, cruelest form of hunting. There is nothing admirable about it and the people who engage in it are deserving of scorn and pity. I do a great deal of bushwhack hiking in the mountains of northern Arizona and in the late fall and springtime I often find the decomposing carcasses of elk and mule deer who were wounded by bowhunters and then ran off and died sometime later (sometimes a LOT later), with a poorly placed arrow still sticking in them. A bad hunter with a rifle can botch a shot too, but relatively speaking the chances of getting a clean kill with less suffering is higher.

    I've been lurking here for a while now, enjoying your essays. I mostly didn't have much to add to the discussion so haven't commented before, but this is something I feel I know something about so that's my 2 cents. I don't mean to come off sounding like an Internet troll.

    - Dave

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    1. del, I don't disagree with the point that you and John V brought up. I had just overlooked it. Perhaps I was so awed by the hunter that I was talking to that it was hard to imagine him not making a clean kill!

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Comments are appreciated. Feel free to disagree as much as you want with any idea in the post or other comments, but resist the ad hominem approach. Please don't be discouraged if I don't respond to every one of them.