Further confessions for a former couch potato: Wild, Wild Washington, D.C.

On Saturday last, I took a walk into “our” wilderness, clambered into the upper reaches of the East Fork of Blue Creek, looking to sew together some unconnected dots. I found what I was looking for — I think — but I also ran out of time, making another foray on another day absolutely necessary. Oh, darn.

The time I ran out of was that necessary to wade the creek, find a way up a small cliff and connect to a trail I know is on the other side, a path to what I call the East Fork meadow. I have been many times to that sacred place, but the passage I have used has become — over two decades —untenable. A huge, nasty patch of hawthorn has taken over 100 yards of what used to be the trail. After my last journey through that, I decided I wasn’t going to do that again — ever. At least not without a chainsaw, which we’re not supposed to use in wilderness.

FSPW executive director Phil Hough weighs in on the reasonability of Wilderness on his way to the next meeting.
FSPW executive director Phil Hough weighs in on the reasonability of Wilderness on his way to the next meeting.

I ran out of time because it was time to go home and pack for where I am at this moment, Washington, D.C.; a long damned way from the East Fork in more ways than one — several thousand miles and more than a couple of centuries. Before that marble, glass and steel edifice was built on the hill just south and east of where I am at this instant, the East Fork had been leaping 35 spectacular feet down Mule Falls for millennia. The surprising grove of Pacific yew I made my way through on Saturday sprouted long before the First Congress convened. The ascending series of cliffs leaping up from both sides of the creek grew long before someone penned, “When in the course of human events . . . ”

Learning my way around a big and old city like Washington, D.C. is analogous to finding my way around in the backcountry, particularly as a city hiker. There are canyons to explore full of surprising places large and small along the way. Beautiful things soar all around, whether they be buildings or monuments or huge trees lining the streets. The indigenous population is very interesting, scurrying here and there in their automobiles and, often as not, out. Washington is a walking town, which we had drilled into our heads — and feet — this past few days, particularly as we have made our way from one meeting to the next to the next and to the next.

A group of wilderness lovers, including Phil Hough and I from Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, have been, um — OK, I’ll admit it — lobbying. No, really. During  Wilderness Week, we scurried around with the indigens (as well as a few indigents), running — sometimes literally — from office to office of Congressional delegates to provide them with information about wilderness and why we think it’s a good idea to have more.

That’s “lobbying.” Once, we even worked in the lobby, so to speak, but most often we were invited into the inner sanctums, where we met with all the Idaho and Montana representatives except one — Senators Crapo, Risch and Tester and Congressmen Minnick, Simpson and Rehberg all sat down with us. I had a fortuitous meeting with the other Senator’s staff. So, we took the word to all of them in one way or another.

And, they all listened. Politely. They and their staffs asked good questions. They all made good suggestions. Every one of them offered us reasonable ideas about how to make our wilderness happen. Some of them even said they would help get it done.

Perhaps the most valuable lesson learned from this is about the approachability of our Congress. In all cases, we were made to feel welcome, treated with respect and neither derided nor mocked for sharing our beliefs. I found that both refreshing and empowering. It made me not only proud to be an American, citizen of a country where we have access to our governors, but hopeful for our future as a country and for the future of wild places in our country.

We are often treated to stories of derisive behavior between people who hold conflicting points of view about emotionally and politically charged issues. Our modern media seems to thrive on telling us what’s wrong about our system while leaving out what’s right. Through this lens of hysteria-mongering by greedy “news” venues who write to our visceral fears and passions in the interest of selling copies, click-throughs and copious amounts of advertising, we get a distorted view of our government, our situation and ourselves.

None of these people we met with seemed to believe that our country is in pristine condition, but none of them felt that we, as a populace, couldn’t fix it, either. In my experience, they demonstrated that they are very much servants of the public. Our job is to stand up and tell them what course we want them to take, and listen to their advice on how we might achieve that by working through the process that they attend to daily: governance. Citizenship is not a passive occupation.

I’ll be back in the East Fork of Blue Creek soon. This time, I’ll cross the creek and connect the dots; climb into the East Fork meadow and celebrate its wild presence. It will be a good way to celebrate my time here in the East, and the palpable progress I feel we made toward making the Scotchman Peaks a wilderness area.

Time is on our side, after all, but we need to be using it wisely.

Sandy Compton

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Categories: Blog
About The Author:

Sandy Compton has been program coordinator for Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness since 2009. He is also a storyteller and author of both fiction and non-fiction books, and the publisher at bluecreekpress.com.

In addition to his other duties, he runs the FSPW All Star Trail Team (www.scotchmanpeaks.org/trails), which works on Forest Service trails in the Scotchman Peaks. He is a trail surveyor as well, and a C-Certified Crosscut Bucker/Feller and USFS National Saw Policy OHLEC instructor.

Sandy grew up on a small farm/woodlot at the south end of the proposed wilderness and lives there still. He is also board member of the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance and a planning team member for the Northern Rockies Wilderness Skills Institute.

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