Sunday, October 2, 2011

Trail Weapons: Myths and Illusions of Reality

all photos by Jonathan Schechter

"In wildness is the preservation of the world."
One of my favorite quotes of Henry David Thoreau.

By the time you read these words I will about 230 miles away in a land of wildness.
And just a bit before the sun sinks into the waters of Lake Michigan I will set out
on  "my back country trail" for a night hike not many miles from the small Village of Empire. The trail is frequented by porcupines, coyotes and black bears, and more likely than
not a cougar or two  silently treks the night shadows between the crashing waves of a great
 restless lake and  the silent leeward side of the furthest sand dune.

I pose a question: What is the best weapon for my journey to insure I have safe flirtations
 with nature at her wildest in the blustery days and chilly nights of autumn? 

If you picked the knife - you are wrong.
If you picked the bear spray  - you are wrong.

 However I bring both with me on most treks in lands that are wildlands.
 But the best "weapon" on any trail is situational awareness, an understanding of
the creatures and hazards and weather along any trail.
 (I also carry  a small "just in case"day pack with compass, fire starters, survival blanket, dried
foods and other items for an unexpected night in the woods.)

  I  have great respect for creatures with sharp teeth, claws and fangs but I am far more
concerned about Idiot Two-legged Beasts that persist in drunk or texting driving and may be 
drifting over the center line of  M-22, my winding gateway road to northern adventures on
our magnificant and oftern stormy northwest shore.

Situational awareness means I understand how bear spray works chemically, how it would affect
me in an accident, and how and when to aim and pull the trigger. 
Situational awareness meansI know bear spray is a last ditch emergency deterrent,  meaning it must be instantly accessible and not stuffed away in my pack. 
Situational awareness means I am aware of the controversy on bear bells dangling from a pack: Perhaps the ringing tells a bear habituted to people---"Here comes another fool carrying goodies"
Situational awareness means that  I know running from a predator is the worst thing I can do--for that may elicit a predatory response. Act like prey. You become prey. 
If I stumbled into a black bear, I know not to play dead. That message clearing screams,
"Come on over and eat me! Take a bite! You might like me!"

Does even the slightest potential for sharing a landscape with a cougar, black bear, coyote or other great predator, add to my experience of wildness?
Does a storm churning over the lake after add to my coveted desire for wildness.
I think you know my answer to both questions.
Walk quietly and at peace with our creatures and your journey is full of goodness.
And that my friends is not an illusion of reality.

Photos by Jonathan Schechter
Trailhead signs at Sleeping Bear Dunes Nat'l Lakeshore
Situational awarness also means reading  and comprehending advisory signs.


Blogger Rusty Kjarvik said...

Great advice!

Wildness surprisingly teaches us not about chaos but an inner calm that connects through a passage of fear, albeit instinctual. When in Alberta's Rocky Mountains, your advice is ever present.

October 4, 2011 at 3:05 PM 
Blogger Jonathan Schechter said...

Thank you Rusty---your thoughts on this carry weight!

October 4, 2011 at 10:43 PM 

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