Leave Only Footprints

Carole Babyak

There is an old saying that the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man. Wonder and exhilaration in looking at a pulsing, muscular animal eager to take you away. And that means taking you away physically as well as mentally. In art and literature horses have represented many things such as life and they are still the stuff of dreams and wishing.

Other things can illicit a similar feeling and I think this wonder and exhilaration is what John Muir experienced as he walked his beloved Sierra Nevada Mountains . This Scotsman saw in these wild American mountains something that kept him writing for the rest of his life trying to put into words these feelings. Theodore Roosevelt also knew that keeping these wild places was important, as habitat for animals but also as a place where people could go for, shall I say - renewal.

Seeing hese places on television is lovely but being there, smelling the earth, plants, rocks, trees and shrubs; feeling the breeze and lifting your face to the sun, shinning unique to this place; stirs up all these primal emotions. Of course it could be raining or begin to rain, be cloudy and damp but you are there, not sitting comfortably inside; and you will take away something, something like that wonder and exhilaration that John Muir felt. He and Theodore Roosevelt helped preserve a lot of these habitats, habitats that we can visit today.

I do not walk the Sierra Nevada Mountains every day but the wetlands and woods that I do walk in Ohio produce what I feel is the same response that Muir felt. I understand him. When I was younger I roamed the woods imagining I was the first explorer, the first person to see a big tree, now I think I must go there for exercise but I go there for the same reasons John Muir expressed. A day of lightning and downpour or blizzard when I don't walk the woods, I feel restless, undirected, unorganized; I need a list of things to do. And feeling so comfortable in the woods I can think, I become inspired and that inspiration follows me all day.

Of course encounters with animals and birds are always welcomed and many of these encounters can only be experienced on their home ground. We are trespassers in their habitat and we must respect them as we must respect the weather – also - poison ivy. I always remember where it grows, for the irritating oil is present in winter but - I always look at the thick vines and the white berries it produces, for warblers even Pileated Woodpeckers eat these berries. Without wild places there would not be this wild food. Sometimes I think that poison ivy might be a barrier for human intrusion, but you don't get the rash for a day or so later, so it isn't a direct block.

Signs in many parks say, Stay on the Path, - Leave only Footprints, take only Photographs. Good reminders for good behavior in wild places.