The Importance Of: The Land Before Tinder
The Importance Of: is a semi-monthly bit on the importance of topics that aren’t constantly being labeled as such…and also irony.
The charcoal-dark hills, blackened from summer forest fires, were spongy with snowmelt. Five-hundred feet below, a small figure fly fished the shadowed runnels of an untamed river.
Charred timber contrasted starkly with sunlit clouds, reflecting gold in the water. I realized I was having one of those surreal moments in nature when person and landscape come together in a weird, timeless, Deja Vous way. The tiny human set amidst the arrowhead-shaped, snow-covered rock beds could have just as easily been a member of the Nez Perce, Cayuse, Shoshone, Bannocks, or their ancestors, who fished the same waters for steelhead for thousands of years.
I had glimpsed the land before Tinder.
It’s happened before. The wild places of the American West have a way of leaving me outside place and time. Sans pot even. My grand efforts, insecurities, and worries derived from the pursuit of a meaningful, first-world life seem appropriately insignificant when I delve into the pristine, natural world; a place that did quite well for millennia without a single photo, post, pin, or tweet.
I’ve never had that same down-the-rabbit-hole, Lion-King-circle-of-life feeling when I’m stupidly swiping through an artesian well of digital content. I know exactly where I am on the timeline with the cold digital glow of an LCD screen illuminating my face — smack dab in a cacophonous, technologically-incredible 21st century. It couldn’t be anytime else. The noise, information, and opportunity is both impressive and oppressive.
The fact that moments like those on that muddy ridge in a remote corner of southeast Washington feel so surreal is a testament to how much our lives in the West have been distanced from the reality of what was the human norm almost uninterrupted for eons not so long ago. Very few places in the world have gone so quickly from completely wild to part of a hyperdeveloped world power in about 175 years.
I’m not saying it’d be super fun to go back.
Healthcare sucked in the 1800s and life expectancy was worse than that of a house plant in a frat house.
Trapper Richard “Beaver Dick” Leigh lost his wife and all six of their children in one month from smallpox in 1876. That’s gnarly.
And I’m not painting a disingenuous idyllic picture of pre-modern America as just super chill mountain bros and peace-loving Native Americans throwing campfire cave raves while cuddly bison frolick across the plains. The history of the west was rough, and often shockingly violent, even before the arrival of Europeans. (Required outstanding read — Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History).
But it seems the First People really understood one big thing that we 21st century Americans as a whole seem to not think about much, or feel much — an innate respect for the natural world. “Respect” might be the wrong word, but it’s close. I mean having some serious humility, appreciation, and wonder for the immense, complex, and fragile beauty around us. And I said “natural” world but that may be wrong too. Really, it’s just the world — the actual world.
There’s millions of us now, I know, and we have to eat and poop and have 5 bedrooms and 3 cars to be happy. And that takes some time and resources. That’s real life. El sueño Americano. Maybe you go out for a hike on the weekend and are like “Okay, cool, neat, back to reality.”
Fair enough. But my house is 11 years old and the mountains nearby are millions/billions. So what’s the reality?
And why isn’t it part of the collective, civic child-rearing process from day one to at least remind the little ones of the incredible story of the wild unfolding around them, as was the practice for thousands of years until recently.
“Dances-on-Pinecones, don’t eat that, don’t play with your peepee in the teepee, and remember the important places.”
We’ve come so far with our shitty internet memes. “The mountains are calling, and I must go”, really? Well, my mortgage is calling, and I must go.
Not everyone can take months off to go on nude hikes, eat stale oatmeal, and hot box tents, but there is a surprising amount of wiggle room between being the elusive, backwoods, socially-isolated, mountain hermit lady and the beleaguered 9-to-5-er whose closest encounter with the wild is sharing a fabricated Teddy Roosevelt quote that uses a horrendous Papyrus font curving across the serrated peaks of a copyright-violated mountain image.
Perhaps, consider a simple mediocre backyard adventure for starters.
And if you’re going to make up quotes and photoshop them to other people’s pictures featuring random important dead people, use Futura.
I think a modern-day Ansel would agree, when not killing it on Tinder, that the great American environmental legacy isn’t just recycling, making kombucha, and shopping for $150 primaloft, 1-percent-for-the-planet pullovers, but that the story has a chance to keep unfolding — the story of people delighting in and in awe of the real world. Maybe taking some bacon home sometimes, but with a metaphorical, skyward fist bump for the privilege.
There are 800-year-old trees an hour-and-a-half from my house. I can’t even begin to understand what that means. I can, but not really. Genghis Khan and his Mongol armies were slaughtering their way across the known world when that tree was a seedling. I have so much technology and convenience at my fingertips that I find myself getting numb and unimpressed frighteningly easily. We’re here for 100 years, max. We have emails to answer and like buttons to click, but I hope we don’t forget the timeless places that humble and shake us.
And now another meme.