Constructing Nature

I went hiking today on some trails I hadn’t been on in years.

Last time I’d hiked there, I was in high school, or maybe home from college during winter break. I’d gone with a friend who lived nearby. Snow covered the ground. We followed the unmarked trails and swung on a rope swing to get across a stream.

(Then we got back to her car and couldn’t find her keys, so we retraced our steps through the snow until we’d done the entire hike again. Finally we walked back to her house and broke the news to her parents that we’d lost the keys. They weren’t too excited to hear that.)

Today there was no snow on the ground. The rope swing had been replaced with a sturdy wooden bridge, and similar bridges crossed the smaller streams as well. Wooden signposts marked every trail. The woods were still lovely, but everything else seemed too easy and developed.

The same thing happened a couple years ago at Sleeping Giant, a nearby hill covered in a web of trails. As soon as I got my driver’s license, I spent an enormous amount of my free time at Sleeping Giant. I went back a few years ago, after I’d moved back here, and they’d built these elaborate wooden bridges and cleared a campground for scout troops and other swarms of people. The woods aren’t so peaceful when there are sixty little kids running around screaming, chased by fifteen adults lumbering around yelling. And if people can’t manage to cross teeny little streams, what are they doing hiking? The trail gets rocky and it’s difficult to find footing. So I don’t see what the fussy bridges are for.

Sure, I think people should get outside, should appreciate the trees and rocks and streams and birdies and everything else they find in the woods.  But hiking, at least as I understand it, isn’t meant to be a stroll down the sidewalk.  It’s supposed to be rocky, and uneven, and sometimes wet, and that’s all part of it.  Laying down gravel and building bridges?  I get plenty of gravel in civilization.  Construction is something I go to the woods to get away from.

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