This past summer I thought a lot about my love for this country. I love the preservation of open space, the diverse beauty of the land, the generosity of its people, our freedoms and wide variety of cultures. And when I find myself getting bogged down in pessimistic analysis of our convoluted political machine, it's time to go for a long walk.
Through these long walks I've developed an intimate relationship with the land that brings sensory understanding to political philosophy. I've often dreamt about what decisions our political leaders would make if they experienced just one thru-hike.
John Muir seemed to catch the ear of many powerful politicians like President Theodore Roosevelt, and journalists like the influential associate editor of Century magazine, Robert Underwood Johnson. On my PCT thru-hike last summer I perused a collection of Muir's writings and conservation accomplishments posted near soda spring in Yosemite. His eloquent passages inspired dreams of taking a walk with President Obama through the High Sierra. We'd drink directly from alpine lakes and touch the last of the spring snow before it melted off into the Owens Valley. Weaving our way through the ancient foxtail pines, we'd eventually clear the treeline and climb to the summit of Mt. Whitney. There, below us, we'd look down on that magnificent valley to the east. Full of history and less full of water than in previous years, the Owens Valley hydrates our international image by giving Hollywood what it needs to survive. How many residents of LA understand that they are drinking Sierran snow melt that collects in a lake adjacent to Manzanar, a WWII Japanese Internment camp?
|The Summit of Mt. Whitney|
Next, I'd invite the President to join me on the long descent into the valley. Upon our arrival in the town of Independence we'd be hard pressed not to get an earful from the locals about a wide array of power, water and historical management issues. The lessons and experiences would continue on and on. We'd walk the aqueduct towards LA, passing through the heart of the Mojave Desert. We would witness huge stretches of colossal wind farms whirling alongside us for days on end and eventually, the lights of the LA Basin would greet us as we traversed the Angeles Crest. The President and I would finish our journey by walking through the heart of LA until we reached the Pacific Ocean.
Sounds fanciful I know. What top level politician today would take on such a journey? Would you believe me if I told you that a Supreme Court Justice once thru-hiked the C&O canal towpath in order to preserve this crucial riparian corridor?
|Justice William O. Douglas thru-hiking the C&O Canal|
Almost exactly 60 years ago, this letter to the editor, written by Justice William O. Douglas, appeared in the Washington Post: