“When I was at Yosemite’s spectacular Tunnel View a few years ago, I watched in disbelief as visitors poured out of vehicles and rushed to snap photos, bringing cameras or smartphones to their eyes before they’d even looked at the scene…
And those were the visitors who had time to stop. Many others simply rolled by slowly in their cars, taking photos out of the windows. “Been there, shot that,” one visitor wore on his t-shirt...
“People aren’t stopping to look anymore,” Yosemite Communications Director Scott Gediman told me then. “They’re rush, rush, rush and I see that every day.”
A generation ago, the average Yosemite visitor spent 48 hours at the park, Gediman pointed out. Now the average visit lasts a mere 4.8 hours. “People aren’t taking long backpacking trips like they did before,” Gediman says. “Backcountry use is actually declining even though more people come here.”
Over at the Grand Canyon National Park, the average visit is even shorter. Most visitors spend just 17 minutes looking at the magical abyss. A friend described witnessing a family whose car pulled into one canyon view parking lot. “Stay in the car, I’ll get the shot,” the father hollered to mom and the kids.
Shelton Johnson, the veteran African American ranger and novelist, had the same observation about park visitors. “They’re harried, they’re rushed, they’re looking at their watches,” he laments…
Americans seem to be in more of a hurry than ever before, pressured by hectic work schedules and overloaded by other commitments and digital information…
How can one learn to love our parks, to fully absorb the vast beauty and profound experiences they offer, with an eye constantly on the clock? And what does this drastic drop in the amount of time Americans are spending in our parks mean for the future of our wild species?
…It is sad to think that today children can recognize hundreds of corporate logos but fewer than a dozen local plants and animals.
…Sociologist Juliet Schor has documented how Americans now work longer hours than they did in the late 1960s… It wouldn’t be far from the truth to say that for most of us, our days are spent with the demands of work carrying over into our leisure time as well. It’s hard today for Americans to set aside their cell phones and other devices and spend time in nature. We are addicted to constant stimulus of the virtual kind. It often takes several days for city dwellers to slow down and leave their technologies and anxieties behind.
“We need idleness,” says Johnson, “for contemplation, for soul searching, for truly seeing what’s around us. It’s the beginning of art. It’s the beginning of romance. It’s the beginning of becoming human. We can’t lose that!”
-- John de Graaf, “Finding Time for Our Parks,” Earth Island Journal, Summer 2016.
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For many of us there simply aren’t enough hours in the day, week, or month to accomplish everything we need to. Leisure activities are sometimes pushed aside.
Some of you periodically tell me you’d like to hike more often but simply can’t find the time. Work, family issues, and competing interests are often the reasons.
My impression is that in recent years more and more of us are living with “seriously” overloaded schedules. And stress levels seem to be higher than ever.
How often do you actually connect directly with the natural world? Photos, videos, and films can be wonderful, but they’re clearly no replacement for experiencing nature (and all the other important things in life) “in the raw,” first hand.
On our hikes it’s common to hear comments about how beautiful everything is, and how relaxing and therapeutic it feels to be unwinding “in the wild.”
Some of you do succeed in getting out as often as every week or two. A minority of you have abundant free time and no trouble fitting in outdoor activities.
Others of you are super-busy, but may have decided that getting away frequently is essential to your well-being. So you’ve chosen to give it especially high priority.
That can take plenty of willpower, especially when other people or projects are constantly competing for your time and attention. Sometimes we have no choice but to attend to work and other responsibilities. Other times we DO have a choice.
A few of our members have hiked with us virtually every week -- or 2-3 weekends per month -- for a number of years. Does that sound like an impossibility for you?
It’s always worth remembering: that life is short, work is far from being all that matters, and nature is a vital part of who and what we are. Which may be one reason why many of us find communing with the natural world to be so fulfilling.
-- Charlie Cook