We need wilderness because we are wild animals. Every man needs a place where he can go to go crazy in peace. Every Boy Scout troop deserves a forest to get lost, miserable, and starving in.
Some things you just can't pencil into your agenda.
It was lunchtime in East County. My hiking buddy Mark and I were perched on an outcrop of rock along Mt. Diablo's Falls Trail, savoring cabernet in plastic cups and the cannonading of water far below. This we had penciled in.
What happened next was the mountain's idea. There, 50 yards eastward and upward bounded a mule deer, its tongue sticking out like a dagger. It swung around the warp of the canyon's steep west face, weaving through chamise and manzanita like they weren't there, and in 10 seconds was gone.
No sooner had it disappeared than a second mule deer flew into view, tattooing the route of the first. As Mark and I watched it gallop out of sight, a coyote burst out of the chaparral, hot on the scent of venison. Not 10 seconds later, a second coyote materialized and loped on long legs down the well-worn path of pursuit.
I fully expected something higher on the food chain, something with a taste for coyote, to show up next and prolong that curious conga line of predation. But the show was over.
Wallace Stegner wrote that culture is a pyramid to which each of us brings a stone. My stone is small and not quite trimmed to fit. I can't claim to have seen much of this world, but what I've seen is more intriguing than anything I could have dreamed up. I don't know if those coyotes succeeded in running down those deer on the steeps of Mt. Diablo's North Peak. But I know this: the most remarkable and unscheduled things can happen in my neighborhood.
It's a neighborhood worth preserving. Mt. Diablo has been around for a million years and will likely stand for another million. The shelf life of its trails and campsites, however, is less certain. In 2006-07, the state of California funded its parks to the tune of $603 million, $67 million of which was devoted to maintenance and repair. Problem is, it costs closer to $185 million to properly maintain and repair the system.
To augment the gloom, the proposed budget for 2007-08 hammered out in Sacramento calls for a 30-percent slash in state park funding. According to State Senator Joe Simitian (D Palo Alto), Our state parks have borne the brunt of our struggle to balance the state budget. This longstanding neglect of state parklands has gotten to the point where we have a billion dollar backlog of maintenance and repair.
It's troubling that so many champions of the natural world are forced to defend the preservation of wilderness. Preservation of wilderness, like preservation of sanity, should require no rationale. Do we demand that parents explain why they compel their kids to fasten their seat belts? To protect one's beloved from harm should require no justification.
But preservation and maintenance are a package deal. Do we pin medals on parents in affluent suburbia for merely keeping their children alive? No, we expect a higher standard. Let's be clear. Drawing boundaries around wilderness, protecting it from development, is not enough. Wilderness must be made available to enjoy. It's not enough that the land should be lovable in the abstract; we must be allowed to love it up close and personal.
Make a call; knock off an e-letter; tell your public servants how much your parks mean to you, how much they can mean to your grandchildren. And a word of caution: Do not burn yourselves out, wrote preservationist Edward Abbey. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it's still here.
So get out there and watch the water shimmer beneath the summer sun at Los Vaqueros. Climb the curling sandstone at Black Diamond Mines after a winter rain, or witness the violet salvoes of Ithuriel's spear in Round Valley's Hardy Canyon in May. Morgan Territory is nearby and yet remote. Its hills rise like stairs toward the dais of Mt. Diablo, where in autumn Mitchell Canyon is stained in scarlet and saffron.
Just get out there. Who knows? Maybe some deer and coyote will show up.