If family lore holds correct and in this case I actually heard it from one of the involved parties. My Great Uncle, Albert Leslie was the first person to slide down Sliding Rock in what was to become The Pisgah National Forest. He was running from a Great, Great Uncle on the other side of the family, Ranger Jimmy Case, who eventually arrested him for poaching after first pulling him and his equipment from the pool of frigid water at the bottom of the rock. The Leslie’s were loggers and ran a camp on Vanderbilt Land. The Cases, from Jimmy on down to my Grandfather, Clyde, were foresters, men who believed in using forest as a managed resource.
Yet they had another belief I often heard them espouse. They believed lands should be set aside for perpetuity, lands protected against the invasion of man bent on using the forest solely as a harvested resource. They felt, rightly so, that without protection all wilderness would eventually be consumed. Perhaps my own strong feelings are given rise from being drug around through the forest as a child. I certainly was at an advantage, having such knowledgeable men to act as my guides. They told stories of the native chestnut that had been the king of the forest before the blight almost wiped it out and showed me pictures of cut logs as thick as the men standing beside them were tall. With a gentleness that defied their strength they held wriggling creatures in their hand for my inspection and taught me the difference in a salamander and a newt (there is very little difference, all newts are salamanders, but not all salamanders are newts). They showed me patches of ginseng and Pink Ladies Slipper, plants which do not transplant well and need native habitat to survive.
As an adult I continue use of the wilderness. I am a hiker, camper and fly fisher person who feels just as home “out there” as I do “in here”. I have tried to pass this love of wildness on to my son with the hope that he too will pass it on. As a result, on a personal basis, I want more protected land and I want to visit it all.
The need for wilderness transcends purely selfish reasons however. Wilderness is a deterrent to climate change, it has a strong economic impact on the surrounding geographic area and it is one of the few remaining places on earth where one can spend time without the distractions of the modern world.
It is this absence of distraction that continues to draw me. I do not go to wilderness for an absence of noise, for the sounds of the wilderness can be quite loud. No the wilderness has its own, a different kind of noise, the chattering of the squirrel, the caw of the crow, the keen ring of the hawk. I’ve been startled by the flush of a grouse which can be best described as noisy as the rise of a helicopter, I take joy in the snorting of the deer and the bugle of an elk. All of these are noise in their own right but for some deep ingrained reason they allow clarity of thought that I can’t achieve anywhere else.
Perhaps that is why I become so agitated when I see people who with no regard for public land, public title and protection of these assets attempt with no remorse to take land for their own. The constitution of the United States begins with the word “We the people” a unifying and great truth. As a collective we are the government and my hackles arise when any one or group attempts to place themselves above the collective “all” as has been done in Oregon these past few weeks.
I hear the rallying cry, put the land back in the hands of the people and I challenge in response, “The land is in the hands of the people, keep your greedy hands off.”
cc 2016 Parts of this story originally appeared as a web essay for The Wilderness Society.