Monday, September 08, 2008

Hiking Etiquette

I've been doing a lot of hiking this summer. Getting out in nature is so healing and nurturing to the spirit. The combination of physical exertion and all that beauty is a powerful tonic.

One of the rules of hiking that is most important to me is the admonition to 'leave it as you found it.' Another version of this is 'if you pack it in... pack it out.' It is a rule that demonstrates respect - for both the the nature that is being enjoyed as well as for other hikers that will come later. The practice is meant to preserve and protect the environment so that it remains unspoiled.

On most of the trails I hike around my home people are pretty good about this. You don't find deliberately strewn litter in most cases. (Public beaches, however, are a different story for a different day.) The 'litter' that appears on these hiking trails is most often accidental: a piece of torn energy bar wrapper, a piece of black tape off of piece of equipment or the occasional Kleenex. Yick!

Many of us on the trail go way beyond being careful with our own trash. Some of us are downright obsessive about cleaning up the trail no matter who dropped what. I generally try to remember to carry a plastic bag in my pack, so that I can pick up whatever I find. Often I forget my little sack, so whatever items I find end up in my jacket pocket or my backpack. I have a strict rule that I cannot leave anything on the trail if I find it. (I must be honest though, if I find a dirty Kleenex and don't have anything to pick it up with, I leave that for a better prepared compulsive hiker to tend to.)

My commitment has sent me over the side of a few embankments to retrieve water bottles before - much to the dismay of hiking companions.

It's a powerful concept - this hiking rule. Technically it 'isn't my job' to pick up after anyone else. I'm out on the trail for my own enjoyment, not to clean up other people's messes... right? While that is true, there is a higher responsibility that beckons. We all share the responsibility of keeping our world clean and protected. When other people can't or won't, we do have a duty to step in and do the right thing. That's my opinion anyway.

I'm always hopeful that if someone else sees me pick up the litter, they too might adopt the practice (if they haven't already). You never know who is watching your actions and who might be positively (or negatively as the case may be) influenced by them.

Bottom line, it just 'feels' good to me! I love walking through the woods and seeing a pristine landscape. I don't want to see people's trash on the trail, or along side it.

I carry this practice into other areas as well, although not with the same level of obsession. If I picked up every piece of trash on the street, I'd have a full time job most days. I have a different practice for 'off trail' litter. I'll share that one another time.

We can all have a better world if we step up to the plate and do our part to protect and preserve it's beauty. I encourage you to give it a try!

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